Dutch courage: the unfulfilled promise of Jos Verstappen
- Dan Moakes
- 8W Special, August 15, 2000
- Carel Godin de Beaufort - The last knight of Grand Prix racing, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Jan Lammers - Born in the wrong country, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Gijs van Lennep - As smooth as aristocrats can be, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Huub Rothengatter - Managed himself and Jos into F1, by Mattijs Diepraam
2000 Canadian GP
Suddenly the Verstappen of old was back. Not the accident-prone "Vercrashen" of old who had been the butt of many jokes - Atlas F1's Mitch McCann even turned Verstappen into his primary comedy target, amplifying the unlucky Dutchman's poor reliability rate into a hard-to-kick gravel-trap seeking habit. After its umpteenth replay the joke stuck and soon became more of a habit than the actions it was meant to satirize. So in spite of Verstappen's comet-like arrival on the F1 scene the image remained of a reckless, hair-brained rent-a-driver. A driver that would truly live up to such a conceived image could not have been the star of the 2000 Canadian GP. Instead this was the fast, skilled and undaunted Jos we saw piercing his way through the field as he did in rain-soaked events on board a 1995 Simtek or 1996 Arrows. Wearing a one-time orange helmet to support the Dutch national soccer team during their European Championship campaign Jos surged to fifth at the line. It's these flashes of brilliance - with car control, speed and courage of Jean Alesi on a good day to match - that makes us understand why Jos was once one of the karting stars of the world. If only he would be less erratic. With most of his other performances of the 2000 season he is making his team-mate look good. And that's an experience he won't relish.
Outside of the Netherlands, probably the most widely remembered moment in Grands Prix involving Jos Verstappen is the infamous refuelling fire at Hockenheim, in 1994. Happily, the incident was an atypical occurrence, but in many ways his changing fortunes in that German Grand Prix weekend sum up the Dutchman's F1 career. Whilst having the potential and ability to do really well, he has somehow failed to actually net the expected results, and a good competitive opening has been consistently hard to find.
For the event in question, the difficulties seemed to outweigh the positive aspects. Having encountered trouble with discharged fire extinguisher fluid, Verstappen's biggest problems started in the Friday practice session. Coming across some oil dropped on the track, he spun off and badly damaged his Benetton-Ford. In first qualifying he was allowed to go out in the vehicle of team-mate Michael Schumacher, following the German's initial run. Unfortunately, Jos failed to complete a single lap in this car, as he went off into the gravel for no explicable reason, leaving the team with no usable cars for the remainder of the hour. Although he made the grid on the following day, his car behaved unpredictably and the nineteenth position achieved was his worst slot of the season.
Starting so far down looked to be a pretty sizeable disadvantage, but this was the stage of events where fortune finally swung the Dutchman's way. At the race start, three separate incidents resulted in ten cars retiring immediately. As well as this, by the end of the first lap Jean Alesi's Ferrari engine had failed, and both the Williams-Renaults were in the pits for repairs. Jos had avoided all the carnage and was lying fifth, behind Gerhard Berger (Ferrari), Schumacher, Ukyo Katayama (Tyrrell) and Olivier Panis (Ligier). He was pushed back to sixth by Éric Bernard's second Ligier, but with Katayama going out, he was back in fifth by the time of his lap 15 pitstop.
The pictures of what happened next went all around the world. At the uncoupling of the refuelling hose nozzle, fuel splashed onto the hot car causing a spectacular fireball. Thankfully, the blaze was put out with commendable speed, and Jos got himself out pretty smartish, too. Although he and several of the mechanics were hurt, nothing worse than minor surface burns was sustained by any of them. For all this drama, the race continued. Schumacher was to go out a few laps later, and with Jos having been in a superior car to the two Frenchmen, he might have been on line for a second placed finish. Even had he stayed behind the Ligiers, fourth would have been an excellent recovery from the weekend's woes, so his race was doubly wrecked.
Johannes Franciscus Verstappen, who would later be known as 'Jos the Boss' by his many fans, began go-kart racing in 1980, at the age of eight. Over twelve years he proved to be exceptionally talented in this discipline, winning many races and championships. These included the Dutch Championships of 1984 and 1986, two European categories in 1989 (Formula K and Intercontinental A), and the Belgian title of 1991. Of the many domestic and international race wins of the period, his success in the 1989 Japanese Kart Grand Prix was perhaps the most prominent.
At the end of 1991, Jos was given his first chance to try out a racing car proper after his father Frans had made contact with Huub Rothengatter, the ex-F1 driver. In a six-year-old Formula Ford Crossle, Verstappen's lap times at Zandvoort were spectacular enough to make the timekeepers doubt the accuracy of their stopwatches! This demonstration of promise led to another run on the circuit, this time in a Formula Opel Lotus car. His form on that rainy November day was again impressive, and the owner of both these cars, Frits van Amersfoort, signed him up. In 1992, now managed by Rothengatter and supported by both Philips and Marlboro, Jos competed in the Benelux series for F Opel Lotus. By the end of June, he had won five of six events, including all three held at home in Zandvoort.
He began to take part in the Euroseries in July, winning both races at the Zolder double-header two months later. By this stage, his Benelux tally was up to eight (from nine races), and he was the unchallenged champion, even though his engine was discovered to be marginally less powerful than his opposition. His late start didn't prevent seventh position overall in the Euroseries. He was also in the Dutch duo that took the Nations Cup event at Estoril, Portugal in October, but on this occasion Martijn Koene had the better results. Verstappen's year ended with the award for N.A.V. Dutch driver of the year and, having tested for several top Formula Three teams, in December Jos signed up for WTS Racing, the best team in the German championship.
Before that partnership came into action, Verstappen headed to New Zealand for the International Formula Atlantic championship, which ran throughout January 1993. He was racing a Swift-Toyota for the Graeme Lawrence Racing team, the car being something like four years old. Despite this handicap, he made a great impression. There were three wins and three more podiums - enough to secure fourth place overall. At Wigram, he had two non-finishes, the second of these perhaps indicating a tendency to push things a little too far in his aggressive approach - he crashed out when running well.
The German F3 series was pretty much dominated by Jos Verstappen, his aggressive and speedy style impressing many. After scoring one podium result from the first four races, in the next sixteen he won eight times (twice as much as anyone else all year) and was second in five more. The last two races were disappointing, but he was already the deserving champion, also with nine fastest laps to his name. In August, he won the Marlboro Masters race, leading all the way from pole position to the delight of the home supporters at Zandvoort. He had previously been third at the Monaco F3 race. Once again, he picked up the award for N.A.V. Dutch driver of the year.
Although Ken Tyrrell, who presented the N.A.V. award in 1992, had promised Jos a test in a Formula One car if he could take the German F3 honours, it was Footwork who gave him a first opportunity. In September, he was given a run at Estoril, where he impressed them with his immediate speed. Two months later, it was McLaren's turn to give him a chance and again he did well. It seemed that he was now the primary candidate to take on the full-time test driver role for the team. In January 1994, however, the announcement came that Jos was to be the test driver for the Benetton-Ford team. A week later, their new number two driver, JJ Lehto, suffered a testing crash and fractured two vertebrae in his neck. It was felt he would be fully recovered for the first Grand Prix of the season, but in fact he failed to rebuild his fitness to the required level. So, after just 52 previous single-seater races, Jos Verstappen was called upon to substitute, and he made his first GP start in the season-opening Brazilian race.
Although Lehto was ready to return for the third race, at Imola, Verstappen's two outings in the meantime proved highly eventful. His reputation meant that much was expected, but Interlagos saw him involved in a dramatic barrel roll following a four car incident that was blamed on Eddie Irvine. Having qualified ninth, Jos had moved up to fifth and was back up to ninth following his pit stop. He would have been on course for fifth place had the incident not occurred, and this was, on the whole, a great first showing for him. At the Pacific Grand Prix in Aida he made an unfortunate mistake by pushing too hard when resuming on cold tyres from his second pit stop. He had been fifth, and would have finished fourth if not for this inexperience. He did set fifth best lap time.
San Marino saw Lehto's return, but when he proved disappointing and erratic over a four race run, Verstappen was brought back again for the French Grand Prix. He was fourth fastest in the warm-up there, and got his first finish in the next outing at Silverstone (although he was handicapped by painful cramp and only came ninth). The British race was also the first example of many, many great race starts by Jos. He invariably makes up a number of places in this way, and in fact his strong F1 getaways to date perhaps make him the best starter out there. The next GP was the fateful German race, but Jos bounced back with two impressive outings in the Hungarian and Belgian events. At Budapest he was consistently quick in the race and came home third, helped by Schumacher in the winning car. The German allowed Jos to unlap himself towards the end, and thereby get past the retiring McLaren of Martin Brundle on the final circuit. At Spa-Francorchamps, a venue he was very familiar with, Verstappen scored his highest grid position so far, getting into sixth slot. In the race, he came home in fourth place, with fourth best lap, but was ultimately elevated to third. Schumacher had come first, but his car was excluded for excessive skidblock wear.
These two results were convincingly better than Lehto had managed, and this was emphasised in the Italian and Portuguese weekends. The Finn returned to action as Verstappen's partner for these two events, as Schumacher was serving out a ban. At Monza, Jos was ten places further up the grid, but went out on the first lap when he was hit and sustained a puncture. Estoril was a lot better, and Jos was steady in the early stages. He radioed the team to reduce tyre pressures for his second set, and this enabled him to chase after Rubens Barrichello in the Jordan. He lost the chance to challenge for fourth when he came across oil on the track, but still came home fifth. Lehto was ninth and then spun off, respectively, in these races.
Schumacher was back for the European race at Jerez, and after this Jos (who had spun out) was replaced by Johnny Herbert. The official word was that the Dutchman was injured, but in truth he was fine. Benetton wanted an experienced man who might get closer to the team leader's pace, and aid the push for the Constructor's Championship. In the event, Herbert failed to finish the year's two remaining races, completing less than twenty laps. Verstappen was back in his role as test driver, but now with ten Grands Prix under his belt. In hindsight it can be seen that, although he showed great promise at times, it was surely much too soon in his career to be racing with such a prominent F1 team. The fact that his team-mate won the World Championship highlighted this, although Jos, in common with other drivers, struggled with a car designed to suit the German. He had been a lot happier in the interim B193B, carried over from 1993.
For 1995, Verstappen continued as Benetton's test driver, but they felt he would benefit from getting racing experience with a smaller team. An arrangement was made for him to join Simtek, in exchange for the use of the Benetton six-speed semi-automatic gearbox from the previous season. The team was small, underfunded, and going into only its second year after a very difficult and traumatic first one. Jos was very happy with the handling characteristics of the S951, but it was short on power, relying as it did on the customer V8 Ford Cosworth ED engine. It also suffered from an unreliable transmission.
Nevertheless, he put up some great performances in the car, easily outclassing Italian team-mate Mimmo Schiattarella. In Brazil, new suspension brackets had to be flown out for the morning of the race, but it didn't stop Jos flying up from twenty-fourth to fourteenth before his clutch failed. Argentina was even better, with the tight and twisty nature of the circuit suiting both driver and car. Fourteenth in qualifying was a great effort, but in the race he was up to sixth by lap seventeen, having held off Berger's Ferrari early on. A problem at the pit stop cost him ground, but the gearbox broke soon afterwards anyway. It had been a brilliant run until then. More good grid positions came at Imola and Barcelona but, although he was up to eighth in the former race, his twelfth place result in the latter represented his only finish. At Monaco, the race needed restarting after a collision at the front but, before this could happen, both Simteks had to withdraw for different reasons. With necessary extra sponsorship not being secured, Simtek was forced to go into receivership after this, and they did not appear at any more races. This left Jos out of meaningful work.
His Benetton role continued, however, and in fact it was rumoured that he might be in the frame for a return to the race team. Herbert had proved a bit disappointing, and after the French GP he was 34 points behind Schumacher. It looked like he was in danger of being pushed out, but this changed when he won at Silverstone. Verstappen had to wait until later in the year for more action, when he was given a test run by the Footwork Arrows team. Jackie Oliver and Alan Jenkins, the boss and technical director, were both fans following his run with them two years earlier. He had now been released by Benetton, and so they signed him up for 1996.
The new season started with some promising performances, and Jos' Footwork-Hart often appeared in the top ten during the various practice and warm-up sessions. At the Interlagos race, which started in very wet conditions, he more than once set the fastest lap early on. This allowed him to move up to seventh, and put pressure on some of the top drivers. The race soon ended for him, however, when his engine gave out. At Buenos Aires, he repeated his amazing feats of the previous year. This time he qualified seventh, which was, and is, his second best starting position to date. On this rare occasion, Jos failed to make up any places at the start, but a strong race long run saw him outdo David Coulthard in the McLaren, and nearly get fifth from Irvine's Ferrari at the end. The point he scored here would turn out to be the only one secured by the team all year, and Jos would have to wait a long time for more, as well.
Unfortunately for Jos, 1996 was the year in which his reputation for crashing began to form. Whilst there were a few incidents of this nature, his poor finishing record was a lot to do with problems on the car. And it became a frustrating time for other reasons, too. At a very early stage, Tom Walkinshaw gave up on his attempts to get anywhere as the boss of the Ligier team, and instead bought a controlling share of Footwork. The attitude of the Scot was that the team needed to look to the future, which effectively halted development work on the FA17. Whilst Jos did some testing work that year, it was in the interest of getting the new Bridgestone tyres, for 1997, up to pace. He ran them on both the Footwork and an old Ligier-Mugen Honda, which also provided him with his only taste of a V10 engine until 1998. This programme, of course, meant the team were unable to run on Goodyears away from the races, which upset any set-up work that might be done, and inevitably led to the car's competitive pace tailing off.
There were still some good races to come, at this stage, and one of them might well have been at Monaco. Jos took the gamble of being the only driver going to the grid with slick tyres in wet conditions. The strategy that helped Panis to take the win involved opportunely timing the switch from the wet-weather rubber, and he was helped by the top four runners dropping out. Unluckily for Jos, he didn't get past the first corner. But it was not because he lost control, as he had in fact been pushed into the barrier by Mika Häkkinen. The Finn had started four places ahead, and so if Jos could have made up this amount and then held ground during the early stages, who can tell to what extent he could have capitalised in the dry. Then there was a decidedly impressive run in a totally rained out Spanish GP. Jos used his skills to move through from thirteenth to fifth by lap 45. At this stage, Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fourth, and Verstappen was circulating quicker than the Sauber driver. Whilst he might have got the place before the end, the conditions were difficult enough to even catch Jos out. Walkinshaw was not impressed when Verstappen spun out of the race, especially as his great pace had been shown by the third fastest lap of the day.
In fact, there were only three more finishes after this, making four all year. Eighth at Monza was the best of these. This was after a particularly bad accident at Spa, where a stub axle broke, sending the Dutchman into the barriers at the fast Stavelot corner. Luckily he was unhurt in this incident, but he was shaken, and the car was badly damaged. As well as in Spain, there were two more races ended by driver error, at the Grands Prix of Germany and Hungary. His remaining retirements were down to four failures of the engine (including Brazil), one of the gearbox, and an unfortunate refuelling incident at San Marino, when he was sent off with the fuel line still attached to his car, and a mechanic was hurt. Despite the lack of results, the evidence of Jos' ability was there to be seen in 1996. He out-qualified his team-mate, Ricardo Rosset of Brazil, in every single race, and he made up places at the start of every race except one. In one event, the Belgian race, he gained three places on lap one, and in four others he gained even more.
As the year came to an end, then, Tom Walkinshaw was quite keen to retain Jos in the team, which was due to return to its original name of Arrows. Unfortunately, negotiations failed to go well, and it seems that Huub Rothengatter decided to ask for more money than TW felt the driver was worth. Arrows were going to be on the Bridgestone tyres, and they went on to have a few good qualifying positions, and one great race from World Champion Damon Hill, who took over Verstappen's seat. For 1997, Jos was instead signed up by the Tyrrell team, where he would be matched against the resident talents of Mika Salo from Finland. There really didn't prove to be much in it between the two drivers, in terms of speed, but the problem for both was in the form of the car's engine. Tyrrell relied on the customer Ford Cosworth ED V8, which was by now no match for the works V10 units of most other teams. Invariably, this left them near the back of the grid, battling mainly with the Minardi team, which now had the Harts that Jos had been using.
Despite the fact that this turned out to be one of the poorest seasons Tyrrell would ever have, there were some excellent moments for Jos. Whenever his talents were allowed to show, thanks to the conditions or track type, he would have a good run. In Melbourne, although qualified back in 21st, he made up seven places in the first lap, overhauling Salo in the process. At the end of lap three, however, he went off in a big way in an attempt to pass Katayama. Ken Tyrrell, notoriously intolerant of drivers who break his cars, no doubt had a few strong words for Jos about this, and he didn't crash out of another event in the remainder of the season. Then he put things right with another good run in the race at Buenos Aires, which was by now his favourite circuit. The Tyrrell was rarely higher than twentieth on the grid, but he started sixteenth here, helped by the new side-mounted 'x-wings.' He'd also managed eleventh in the Saturday practice. In the race itself, which began with a multiple car incident, he made up five spots on lap one, and was seventh by lap nineteen. He pitted four laps later, briefly registering himself in sixth position, and was back up to seventh at around half distance. At sixty per cent distance, though, his familiar luck of old struck again with an engine failure. He had tenth fastest lap time.
In Monaco, Jos managed to crash in qualifying, which relegated him to last place on the grid. In the race, which was wet, he did have a spin, but kept it on the road to reach the finish in eighth position. Meanwhile, Salo had pulled an amazing stunt by running through without a pit stop, and saved enough fuel to get home fifth. It was the only points Tyrrell would manage in '97, and accounted for Jos' best result as well. He had taken eighth best lap in that event but, as well as speed, the Dutchman also demonstrated some good tactical awareness. He survived in Barcelona with only a single tyre stop, thanks to conservative treatment of the rubber. By contrast, many drivers were excessively troubled in that department, and Salo's early pace caused a spectacular blow-out incident. Jos rose steadily to eleventh position, and was able to beat Irvine's Ferrari, which he held behind him for the last thirteen laps.
Next came Verstappen's most impressive performance of the year, at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal. He began with fourteenth on the grid, the best he would achieve all year, and it got better from there. He was into tenth on the first lap, and moved up four more places in the next fourteen circuits. A dramatically daring pass on Barrichello, into the final chicane and with plenty of tyre smoke, got him into position for the points when Ralf Schumacher crashed. Salo, who had been following Jos throughout, took several more laps to get past the Brazilian's Stewart. Verstappen looked set to score, but was put out with gearbox problems, and Salo's car also failed to last. It was a shame, as this was the last time the team were able to be particularly competitive.
That said, Jos still went well on a further two occasions, notably when he set seventh best time in the wet Friday session at Magny-Cours. Then, at Spa, his choice of intermediate tyres for the wet start enabled him to move through to eighth place, having started right down in twenty-first. Unfortunately, his 'local' knowledge failed to pay off, as he overdid it under pressure from Irvine, and slid out of the race. There were a total of eight finishes for Jos during the whole year, but only the one at Monaco was better than tenth. Of the technical retirements, the most worrying was in France, where the computer shut down. This caused the throttle to stick open, and Verstappen was unable to stop the car from ploughing through the gravel and into a tyre wall. There was no lasting damage, and he must have gone into the closed season with at least some optimism for the future.
Unfortunately, things began to change at the end of the year, when the Tyrrell family sold out to the new British American Racing outfit. The existing Tyrrell set-up was expected to continue running for one more year, with BAR taking over in full for the 1999 season. Sadly for Jos, it didn't quite turn out like that. A commitment was already in place for Japanese test driver Toranosuke Takagi to step up into the race team, and with Salo moving to Arrows, Jos was the obvious choice for the other seat. With Takagi being so inexperienced, it made sense both to go for continuity and to run someone who knew what he was doing. Both Verstappen and Salo had put in considerable development time with the new car, and it looked reasonably promising.
In the event, BAR boss Craig Pollock preferred to pick a driver with considerable money behind him, and hired Ricardo Rosset. Ken Tyrrell was not happy with this decision, having wanted to run Verstappen and get a crack at some good results in the final year, so he pulled out of the team before the season even began. It subsequently became clear that BAR was only interested in their own programme for 1999 and, despite some early signs of promise, development was effectively halted. Rosset failed to impress, and he was easily eclipsed by Takagi, who was good but not necessarily special. A largely disastrous season was followed by almost the entire staff switching to other teams, the majority going to the newly formed Honda team under Harvey Postlethwaite, who had been running Tyrrell all year.
All this meant Jos was out of work as the 1998 season kicked off. With no obvious options outside of F1, it made sense to look towards finding a role as test and reserve driver, preferably with a top team. An arrangement was made to give the Dutchman some testing mileage in a Benetton, with a view to him re-joining the team in that capacity. In the event, a return to racing had a stronger pull on Verstappen, so it was no surprise when he turned up once more as a Grand Prix driver.
After the Canadian GP, the Stewart-Ford team brought Jos in to replace Jan Magnussen in their second car. The Dane had not lived up to expectations, and in fact this change had already been rumoured much earlier in the year. It was not a particularly happy or successful time for the Dutchman, either, and in general he failed to match up to team-mate Rubens Barrichello. As he was coming in at mid-season, however, and with no prior experience of the car, this situation was hardly surprising. It did not go unnoticed when he immediately made a good impression by lining up next to the Brazilian in France, and out-qualifying and out-racing him at Silverstone. After this, though, Jos was somewhat written off, with the general view being that he offered no real improvement over the previous incumbent. The truth was a bit different.
For a start, the Stewart was neither competitive nor reliable. The only time either driver ran in a points-scoring position was when Barrichello got up to fourth in Austria before retiring. On that occasion he had benefited from a wet qualifying session and actually started from fifth position, whilst Jos had also used his wet-weather skills to gain his best 1998 grid position - twelfth being his best start slot for over two years. The other unseen point in Jos' favour was found in the gaps between his lap times and those of the Brazilian. Whilst Magnussen had more often been 1.3s behind or worse (and down to 2s or more), Verstappen was mostly within a second of Barrichello and frequently was a lot closer still; the strong competition in the field accounted for the places between grid positions for the two Stewarts.
Verstappen only managed a best result of twelfth position, because of the car's lack of pace, but he went well at the A1-Ring, reaching seventh at one stage, and got the better of Barrichello in a good performance at Monza. Both times he failed to finish, and he was often hurt by the Stewart's unreliable nature. Although he had a couple of minor offs in races, he never retired for any reason other than faulty equipment. Three times it was the engine and three times the gearbox, although he actually completed more laps than Rubens did in the same nine races. His most unlucky event came at a rain-soaked Spa in Belgium. There, he was twice well placed after avoiding incidents at the start. In the carnage of the first attempt, he was just nudged when slotting through to get clear. This caused a puncture and led to minor bodywork damage. He had been in eighth position. The spare car was set up for him, (at effectively his 'home' race) so he took that for the restart. He got away well, helped by an empty space ahead, but was forced to slow and cut through between the cars of Häkkinen and Herbert, which had collided in front of him. He still came round in tenth position, but an early engine failure put him out. He had been in line for fifth place, or possibly even fourth.
In the final analysis, it is probably worth mentioning the personality clash between Jos and Jackie Stewart, which wasn't aided by the Scot's offer of race driving lessons. Whilst this might have helped the inexperienced Magnussen, the Dutchman was a known and respected F1 talent. Just because a driver doesn't have the smooth style of a Barrichello, which perhaps echoed Stewart's own approach… A final moment of promise came at Suzuka, where Verstappen was ninth fastest on the Friday but slipped back as the team got lost on set-up once again. Although he was apparently well liked in the ranks, it was ultimately too late for Jos, who backed up Magnussen's claims of unequal treatment. For the second time, he was replaced by Johnny Herbert. As a footnote: In 1999, Stewart finally found themselves with a consistently fast car. To this day, however, the team (now Jaguar) seems unable to run a second car that can match the pace of the first one.
Once again, Jos was looking for work, and there were two options for him at this point. Both of these roles were as a test driver, once again, either for BMW Williams or at the new Honda outfit. The latter was where many of his former colleagues from Tyrrell were already working, and the boss and technical director was Harvey Postlethwaite. From Jos' view point, the BMW option was less appealing, as there was no guarantee that it would lead to any racing. The idea was to run in the new engine, destined for the team proper in 2000, using a Williams chassis from '98. The Honda role was to develop both chassis and engine, with a view to the marque entering F1 in it's own right with a European-based team, possibly in 1999, but most likely in 2000. This plan suited Jos, and Postlethwaite had no hesitation in renewing their association, as this was a driver whose ability he strongly believed in. The BMW job went to Jörg Müller, who ultimately ended up without a race drive, as befitting his normal luck.
Jos signed a three-year contract with Honda Racing Developments, and the testing programme began very promisingly. He was run in a car that absolutely conformed to the 1999 regulations, achieving some genuinely fast times - especially at Jerez - in competition with other big teams. What's more, he found the chassis' handling to be much to his liking, the engine to be the best he'd yet experienced, and that the team listened to his feedback and responded accordingly. All that remained was for the board of the company to give the go ahead for a full Grand Prix programme the following season.
What actually happened, however, is that the North American arm of the company was opposed to the plan. A positive decision was by no means assured, and so the BAR team put forward a proposal that Honda function as their engine supplier, with the deal to involve a financial incentive as well. There was support for this idea within Honda, particularly with the amount of money being suggested. The risks would all be BAR's, with Honda still having a chance to buy the operation outright at a future date. HRD tried to counter this by suggesting that they themselves could buy a majority share of the team as it stood, and run it independently from Honda until such time as the parent group wanted to take things in-house, if at all. There was a sponsorship budget from Mild Seven tobacco which would have allowed this, but when the ultimate decision came, it was in favour of the BAR deal. For the second time, the same group had intervened and left Verstappen redundant. But sadly, before this happened, Harvey Postlethwaite suffered a fatal heart attack during a team test in Barcelona.
The next F1 opportunity for Verstappen was not unconnected to Honda, and revolved around Damon Hill's retirement from the cockpit. The former champion was racing the Jordan-Mugen Honda in 1999, but was finding himself well and truly overshadowed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the other car, and perhaps saw the time to end his driving career. There followed a series of announcements and reversals in the mid-season, with Hill looking set to quit immediately a couple of times, and then deciding to see out the year. With all this uncertainty, Jordan needed to line up a replacement driver. The only obvious experienced candidates, not employed at the time, were Verstappen and Salo. The Finn had already been a substitute for BAR, but soon found himself fulfilling the same role at Ferrari. Jos was given a chance to test for Jordan, mainly for them to work on getting his seating and driving positions comfortable. The lap times he achieved in the car were better than those of their regular test driver, Shinji Nakano, but not by a particularly large margin, and he didn't really match the race drivers.
Jordan were keen to keep up their momentum in the Constructors' Championship, so obviously required a competitive man in the second car. Had he got closer to Frentzen and Hill, or had there been a second chance, this time with a car that was sorted to suit him, then Jos might have got the nod. As it was, Eddie Jordan apparently put pressure on Hill to continue, which led to the turnaround of his decision. He scored only seven points all year, and the enormous rekindling of interest from Verstappen fans was frustrated, and the exercise proved fruitless.
The year 2000 has seen a full-time return to Grand Prix racing for Verstappen. The arrangements to rejoin the Arrows team were made as late as this January, but it is a completely revitalised operation. Tom Walkinshaw's work has paid off, and he has now secured an effective design team, backed up by an influx of new sponsors, principally Orange. The car set some excellent times in pre-season tests, topping multi-team outings in Barcelona. The Supertec engine is not the most powerful, but is still very good, and has been developed further for this season. Allied to an excellent aerodynamic package, and good rear end stability, it has allowed the Arrows A21 to consistently set the best straight line speeds around the circuits. Generally, both Verstappen and his team-mate, Pedro de la Rosa, have been competitive within a close midfield. The promising Spaniard is retained from 1999, and Jos has needed to work on his fitness, as ordered by TW, in order to keep up the same consistency of pace in a race distance.
So far, the car has proved unreliable, but there hasn't been a race weekend yet where Jos hasn't had a good run at some point. In the first practice in Melbourne he was eighth, and he went on to run ninth in the race, after being fifth in warm-up. The suspension failed early on. The Brazilian event was a further step forward, as he moved up from fourteenth to third place in the first half. This involved overtaking six other cars, but it was also slightly aided by a strategy that proved ill advised. The Arrows is equipped with a smaller fuel tank than most, so the majority of people ran somewhat longer before making their single stops. Jos suffered by resuming from his pit at half-distance, and coming out in the midst of the traffic. With a heavy vehicle, he was unable to repeat the earlier progress, and lost out on his momentum. He also began to suffer fatigue, for the same reason, and was finally passed by Jenson Button in the Williams, finishing eighth. This translated to seventh after Coulthard was excluded, but he could well have been in the points.
There have been numerous appearances in the top ten for Jos, and in fact Brazil had also seen him fifth in the warm-up. At Imola he made up four places at the start, and was into tenth before technical problems intervened. Silverstone saw an excellent qualifying run, and he briefly held pole with a late attack in drying conditions. Although he slipped to eighth at the end, this was close to his best ever, and it was four years since he was as far forward. In the race he hung on to Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, until his car let him down again. In Spain he ran eighth, but the gearbox failed, and then the European Grand Prix was another excellent one. He was again fifth in the warm-up, and took advantage of the rain to move up to seventh during the race. This time he went out after Irvine tried to hold him back, and instead spun his Jaguar, damaging the Arrows slightly. It crashed in a big way soon afterwards.
In Monaco Verstappen ran eighth, but suffered with the brakes, but then came Montréal. Having had his best race in the Tyrrell here, he did an even better job in 2000. And, in common with several other venues, it was three years since his last visit. He had gained four places from his thirteenth placed start, but only began to really make his presence felt when the rains came. This time he was on a two-stop strategy, and dropped down as low as nineteenth at one stage. But his car had been set-up with the knowledge that rain was coming, and his second stop was timed just right for the switch to wets. He resumed in eighth position, and went on his way. Although he went off the track while pursuing Alexander Würz, who did the same thing in front of him, he fought back. Firstly, Ralf Schumacher had passed him during this incident, but Verstappen was very assured in the wet, and got him back in a great move on the same lap. He then caught Würz, and got ahead, and then he did the same to Jarno Trulli, these moves in two more different corners. A further queue of drivers caught the Jordan man, but were unable to get by. It all added up to an excellent fifth placed finish for Jos, which had been a long time coming.
At the Austrian race, he was unlucky not to finish even higher. After the chaos at the first corner, the Dutchman came through in fourth place, where he had also appeared in the warm-up list. Unfortunately, he had contacted another car, so needed to pit for a replacement nose cone. Even so, after rejoining at the back of the field, he set the fastest lap straight off. The car failed to last much longer, but the promise was backed up by his team-mate. De la Rosa took over Jos' fourth place, moved up to third, and was rapid enough to keep a good gap over Barrichello's Ferrari. This Arrows also failed, but it had looked like an easy podium finish, and there could well have been a three-four for Jos and Pedro. Germany was not quite as good, but again it was a strong weekend. Jos overcame technical difficulties to bang in an eleventh placed lap in qualifying. He did this despite missing the best window of opportunity, as rain affected the session, and his car wouldn't start when everyone else was going out.
In the race, he was soon up to sixth, but began to lose some ground after this. Part of his engine cover came away, and he had to give best to Barrichello and Frentzen, in lighter cars. These two were compensating for poor grid positions by stopping twice. Verstappen lost out further during the safety car periods, and also as he needed a new nose in the pits, and particularly as he had to go off track when Ralf Schumacher was spun around by Ricardo Zonta. Nevertheless, he regained some advantage when things got wet. Soon he was back up to eighth, pursuing de la Rosa for what became sixth. Although he spun out, it had certainly looked as though he could have got one or two points. The season continues, and the story of Jos Verstappen is not yet over.
Jos Verstappen's F1 record