Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, August 24, 1996

Hitting the Road to Formula One

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
As the Formula One season goes into its final stretch this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, and the drivers strive to gain a higher place in the standings. At the same time, drivers in other, similar series are trying to add titles to their records in hopes of moving up the hierarchy to Formula One.

That is the goal of just about every single-seat, open-wheel race car driver. But the number of seats in the series is currently limited to 22. With that limitation, how does anyone get there?

The cars in these series, such as the international Formula 3000 series that is also racing this weekend in Spa-Francorchamps, often go only a few seconds slower around the same circuits as the Formula One cars, but they just don't get the same media attention.

But the drivers keep hoping. After following his friend Jacques Villeneuve to North America to drive in the Atlantic Formula series, Patrick Lemarie, a Frenchman, returned to Europe this year to drive in Formula 3000 for the Pacific team. Pacific was the slowest team in Formula One before it stepped down to Formula 3000 this year. They're not exactly shining there either, but Lemarie has been driving brilliantly.

''For me the ideal is to do the Formula 3000 championship,'' he said, ''and to try to have a job as a test driver in Formula One at the same time.''

But test driving in Formula One means being in Formula One, and even test-driving jobs are hard to get.

Ask Ralf Schumacher. After finishing second in the German Formula 3 series last year, Ralf the younger brother of Michael Schumacher who is the current Formula One champion went to Japan this year to race in the Japanese Formula 3000 series. He is leading that championship and this month test drove the McLaren-Mercedes in Formula One.

His manager, Willi Weber, has big plans for the younger Schumacher.

''I want to do the same thing with Ralf that I did with Michael,'' he said. ''Put him in a very very good car to show his talent, and after that build him up very very slowly, till maybe he's Number One when Michael leaves Formula One. To take over the crown.''

If looking ahead with big plans is necessary, one also has to be humble.

Sebastien Enjolras, currently leading the Formula Renault series (a couple of steps below Formula 3000), said, ''I don't want to jump any stages of development. I want to learn as much as possible to arrive in Formula One at a high level of experience. There are some who have gone up too quickly and have stagnated at a high level. They've stalled.''

Villeneuve, the Formula One rookie who is second in the points standings, summed up the job of breaking in by saying, ''You get the opportunity once, and you have to take it when it's there. A lot of drivers don't see the opportunity. Then they believe that they never had the opportunity.''

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