The first time I ever saw Jos Verstappen race, I could not help but be impressed. The date was December 1992, during the New Zealand Formula Atlantic series. Jos was competing in a Swift-Ford, a much underpowered car when compared to the leading Reynard-Toyotas which were the equipment to have at the time. Compared to the local drivers who had the advantage of circuit knowledge, Jos's performance was stunning: finishing a very credible 4th in the series. Then, the real shock came.
On buying the series rap-up magazine, I discovered that Jos Verstappen was only in his first full season of motor racing. While he is a five times Kart Champion, 1992 was his first ever season in cars. What is even more amazing is what he did the next year. History records that in 1993 Jos entered and won the German Formula 3 championship in his first attempt. One year later, he ended up in Formula One as a test driver for the Benetton team.
Fate then made it's presence known in the advancement of Jos's career. JJ Lehto suffered a horrendous testing accident at Silverstone and was not fit to compete in the season opener. Only after two previous seasons racing, Jos Verstappen drove his first ever Grand Prix at Brazil. Throughout the season, Jos raced some ten times for Benetton and was easily the fastest teammate Michael Schumacher faced that year. Last year, there was the abortive Simtek venture. However, once more Jos proved his worth by managing to run the Simtek in the points before unreliability reared its ugly head.
Then, we reach the current day, and the Grand Prix of Argentina 1996. Simply put, Jos's performance was the most noticeable event of the weekend. Qualifying 7th is good enough, but in the Arrows-Hart it is simply sensational. Looking down the times for qualifying and seeing some of the drivers and teams that were trailing in Jos's wake highlights how great a performance this was.
What's more, I suspect it will the first of many such to come.
Great changes are in the air at Arrows, for the team has just been brought by Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Toby Waller’s article this issue expresses some skeptical belief in TWR's ability's, but I have somewhat of a different opinion. Benetton's success in Formula One can be put down to the input and technical ability of Tom Walkinshaw directly. It was in 1991 that Tom was brought in to head the technical role at Benetton. In three years time, TWR had brought in a World Championship to the Benetton team. Flavio Briatore, while a highly effective Team Boss, technically wouldn't know the difference between a screwdriver and a vodka martini.
It should be noted that Tom Walkinshaw was the man to convince Benetton to recruit Michael Schumacher. And, more recently in 1994, Jos Verstappen as test driver. It is then, with much interest that Tom has brought the Arrows team. It has been no great secret that the Milton Keyes concern has been on sale for sometime with Jackie Oliver saying once: "Since we lost Footwork, I've really been doing it as a hobby." Arrows has been one of history's famous "also rans," never managing to make it to the winners circle in the 18 years since the team was formed in 1978. If anyone has the ability to turn Arrows around, Tom Walkinshaw and his team has the skills and the experience to see it through.
What remains to be seen is if Tom Walkinshaw can make Arrows aspire to the heights that he demands. The driver who can achieve this is already in place, the engineering skills are there, and the rumors have started. The departure of Alan Jenkins, the previous designer (now with the Stewart racing team), has invoked one of them. It has been suggested that Ross Brawn, the TWR Jaguar world sportscar designer and current Benetton designer, will return to the TWR fold at Arrows.
Like all things in this great sport, we will see.