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Verstappen without a ride in '04

2/13/2004

LONDON -- Jos the Boss is looking more like
Jobless Jos at the moment but beware of writing him off. His
Formula One career may not be over yet.

With Jordan signing Italian Giorgio Pantano,
thereby filling the last remaining vacancy on the 2004 starting
grid, Dutch driver Jos Verstappen's future appears none too
promising.

But some, in a sport notorious for sudden changes of
fortune, suspect there could be more twists and turns before he
gets to the end of the road.

"Has he still got the talent? Yes. Has he still got the
motivation? I hope he has. He's a bloody good guy, lots of
talent, no fool and knows how to race," said Minardi boss Paul
Stoddart, his last employer.

"If he doesn't drive for all of 2004, you can probably say
that's it for him. It's going to be very hard for Jos, much as I
love him," added the Australian.

"But I would not give up on Jos yet."

It may be wishful thinking but Verstappen, the most
successful Dutch Formula One driver by a mile and with a loud
and loyal fan club, has not given up hope of a return at some
point this season.

All he needs is a team willing to take on a 31-year-old
driver who has been around the block a bit.

Jordan looked a perfect fit until Verstappen's management
announced last week that they had broken off talks for the
second time in a month in an apparent disagreement over
sponsorship space on the car.

"I am going to look around to see what the possibilities
are," Verstappen told his local regional daily newspaper De
Limburger last week.

"I am not going to take any hasty decisions ... something new
will come up. I have not given up Formula One entirely yet."

History supports him to a point -- who can remember a
Formula One season without at least one driver replacement even
if few come back once they get on the wrong side of 30 and have
had a year out?

Or several years out. The man who partnered Michael
Schumacher at Benetton in 1994, and is one of the Ferrari
champion's best friends in the paddock, has been in this
position before.

His chance at Benetton came when Finland's JJ Lehto suffered
a neck injury in preseason testing.

That season left the lasting image of Verstappen submerged
in a ball of fire in a refuelling blaze at the German Grand
Prix, from which he emerged to finish third in the next race in
Hungary.

Dropped at the end of that year, he joined Simtek which
folded after five races.

After spending 1996 at Arrows and 1997 at Tyrrell he was
unemployed again but was then drafted in by Stewart for nine
races when they dumped Denmark's Jan Magnussen.

In 1999 he joined a Honda project abandoned after the death
of leading light Harvey Postlethwaite and tested for Jordan when
Briton Damon Hill suggested he could quit before the end of the
season.

That chance never materialized but two years at Arrows
followed before he was dropped, despite having a contract, just
before the start of the 2002 season to make way for Germany's
Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Another year out and another comeback, this time with
Minardi. The combative Dutchman may have been little more than a
journeyman for much of his career, racing for six different
teams in eight seasons, but he is a survivor.

"I can go and cry in a little corner but that won't help
anybody," said Verstappen, whose 107 starts make him too
experienced to test for anyone other than the top four teams.

"But I am clearly disappointed. They've taken away the thing
I like most -- racing -- at least for the time being."

"In Formula One it is all about politics and money. In my
case as well. Who's to blame for the deal not going ahead is not
an issue for me. As a driver you can only stand back, watch and
keep your mouth shut and hope that all goes well."