Arrows Targets Bernoldi
January 11, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Last season Verstappen made an “either he goes or I go” statement, calling Arrows driver Enrique Bernoldi the “worst teammate” he’s ever had.
Now, with the season-opening Grand Prix of Australia less than two months away, Arrows announced Bernoldi will return to the team in 2002. Team officials did not comment on Verstappen’s status with the team, instead saying its “driver lineup for 2002 and an official launch date will be announced in the near future.”
Reports indicate the team is close to signing Heinz-Harald Frentzen for the 2002 season. But for now, Arrows is banking on Bernoldi.
“Enrique has proven himself to be very quick from the outset, particularly in qualifying, where he has been our lead driver on 10 occasions,” said OrangeArrows Team Principal Tom Walkinshaw. “What has impressed us most recently is his growing confidence in setting up the car and his race performances. I feel the investment in taking a rookie last season will be well rewarded when we give him a competitive package in 2002.”
Bernoldi, 23, finished the 2001 season with no points, 10 DNFs and three top-10 finishes. Verstappen had eight top-10 finishes and scored one point for finishing sixth at the Grand Prix of Austria.
Bernoldi was accused by many in the F-1 paddock of being “immature” and was lambasted by the McLaren team, and specifically David Coulthard, for what was perceived as blocking the Scottsman at the Grand Prix of Monaco. Coulthard went so far as to call Bernoldi an “idiot” for “weaving on the track in a way that as a group of drivers we agreed you don't do. There was a couple of occasions on the track - and only I can judge this and you can take my word for it - that I felt were outside the agreement that we have as drivers.”
Though Coulthard also said Bernoldi was a good driver, the incident added to the pressure of a rookie season.
“My first year in F-1 was pretty tough,” Bernoldi said. “But also very rewarding as I was able to make steady progress throughout the season. I am grateful to Tom for having confidence in me and am looking forward to giving it 100 percent and making 2002 a success.”
Though Walkinshaw now says he is impressed with Bernoldi’s performance and desire to become better, he forgets that at one point the young Brazilian was all but fired. In late August Walkinshaw praised Bernoldi, but said, “We want the best possible driver as Jos's teammate in 2002 and we expect to make an announcement concerning that at Monza.”
Obviously that announcement loosely scheduled for the Sept. 16 Grand Prix of Italy weekend never happened, but what did happen was an increasing interest from Red Bull entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz. This offseason, Red Bull sponsorship was transferred away from Sauber and toward the Arrows team, and it is believed Mateschitz is a very big fan of Bernoldi. With the kind of money Mateschitz seems to be willing to spend in F-1 in the coming years, Bernoldi may be a wanted man.