Dixon tests with Williams on Friday

Updated: March 25, 2004, 2:38 PM ET
By Alan Baldwin | Reuters

Scott Dixon
LONDON -- New Zealander Scott Dixon knows all about turning left after two years of oval racing in America.

Whether the Indy Racing League champion also has the right stuff for Formula One is something that Williams wants to find out.

Dixon is eager to take his career in a new direction and now he has a chance, with a first Formula One test in the south of France on Friday to be followed by a more exhaustive and meaningful session in Spain early next month.

If the 23-year-old does well enough, he may just have a chance of following in the footsteps of Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, Italian Alex Zanardi and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

All won championships in America before being signed by Williams.

The BMW-powered team needs to replace Colombian Montoya, who departs for McLaren at the end of the year, and possibly Germany's Ralf Schumacher as well.

Nobody is suggesting that Dixon, who drives for Chip Ganassi, is anything more than one of several candidates at present and not even a frontrunner at that but he has caught Williams's eye as they cast around for available talent.

"It's really just to have the opportunity to take a look at him, he's a young chap and he's openly stated that he'd like to be in Formula One," said Williams technical director Patrick Head in Malaysia last weekend.

"He was IRL champion last year, made things happen for him when the opportunity came. We're just interested to have a look, let him have a look at Formula One and we'll see where it goes from there.

"There are a number of people we are interested in and certainly Scott Dixon is one of them."

Ganassi and Williams have a long-standing relationship, with Williams recommending Zanardi and Montoya to Ganassi and both drivers later returning to Europe to drive for Williams after winning CART championships.

"This is a good opportunity for Scott to test his mettle in an F1 car," Ganassi said.

Dixon, who was an F1 fan while growing up in New Zealand and Australia, said he is excited about the opportunity to test the Williams car.

"Frank Williams and Chip Ganassi have both been very supportive of this test and are giving me every chance to prove myself," Dixon said. "In the meantime, my focus will be on defending the IRL championship this season and on the Indy 500 in just over a month from now."

Dixon got off to a bad start in the IRL, crashing out of the season-opener in Homestead. But he came back to finish second to winner Tony Kanaan last Sunday in Phoenix. The next race is April 17 in Motegi, Japan.

Villeneuve's test

Jacques Villeneuve
The sweltering day in August 1995 when Canadian Villeneuve first stepped into one of Frank Williams's cars at Silverstone and almost upstaged Briton Damon Hill remains vivid in the memory.

But any comparison with Dixon's test would be overblown.

Villeneuve, son of the late Ferrari great Gilles, had the name and he also had the fame as an Indy 500 winner -- like Montoya after him.

The idiosyncratic Canadian had also proved his mettle on road circuits in a CART championship that had yet to be weakened by the split into two rival series. Dixon also competed in CART before moving with Ganassi to the IRL.

More importantly still, Villeneuve had the backing of Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone and it never hurts to have Mr. E fighting on your side.

Ecclestone wanted Villeneuve in the championship and he got what he wanted.

"Obviously the decision to go with Jacques was fundamentally ours but Bernie was certainly very strongly encouraging us to run Villeneuve and to take him the following year," said Head.

"I don't think he feathered our nest in any way to make it possible but he was certainly very keen on that happening.

"Bernie hasn't said anything to us about Scott Dixon. But we're interested to have a look anyway."

Most people suspect that Williams have either Jaguar's Australian Mark Webber or Briton Jenson Button at the top of their shopping list.

But both have their hands tied and their availability is likely to depend on how their teams perform by a given date in the championship.

"We've talked to a number of people," said Head. "As is fairly well known, a number of people who could be available have limiting clauses in their contracts that might mean they are available, might mean they are not."

If Dixon turns out to be quick, then he could provide another alternative. His profile in the United States can only be an asset in sponsorship terms.

"It's hard to know what Williams is looking for," said the driver last weekend. "Our main focus is the (IRL) championship, this is just a test added to the schedule.

"I'm sure it will be a great experience."

Montoya reckoned the IRL man would do a good job, once he had settled down.

"I think the last one or two years he has been doing ovals so it is going to take a little time to get into the rhythm, especially in an F1 car," he said. "He's pretty good. I think he will do all right."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.