The F1 premier website pitpass.com ran a straw poll
to gage readers’ attitude towards the granting of a full-time drive
in the Minardi team for young Hungarian driver Zsolt Baumgartner. 2
percent thought it was a good choice, 8 percent felt he wouldn’t
last one season, 10 percent felt that he should have been offered a
position as a tester, but not as a racer, 18 percent said it was a
joke and 59 percent said to give the guy a chance.
spending an hour with the 23-year-old, while he was on his (10th)
annual holidays with his parents at the prestigious Royal Cliff Beach
Resort in Thailand, I feel I am better equipped to evaluate and vote
in the pitpass poll.
Zsolt (pronounced Djolt, by the way) comes from a
well-off family in Hungary. His father has been the dealer principal
for Renault in Budapest for many years and now controls six Renault
dealerships, perhaps giving a little inkling as to why Zsolt chose
Formula Renault as one of his stepping stones towards F1.
My personal belief is that to be a real racer you
have to be passionate about cars and Zsolt’s first mechanical
memories revolve around a small motorbike he got when he was four
years old. “The fumes from the petrol were touching me from that
time,” said Zsolt. “Now I like anything with a motor, I even spend
much time on the jet ski’s in the sea off Pattaya (on his
It is an accepted part of the motor racing
apprenticeship process these days that the tyro begins in go-karts,
and Zsolt has been no exception, starting off aged 10. “It was just
a hobby then. I have tried many sports, football, judo and tennis.”
The hobby gave way to something akin to passion and
he concentrated on karting, doing well in Hungary (though detractors
might say that he had little opposition in the small country) but then
in competing in greater Europe itself, graduating to his first real
race car - a Formula Renault in 1997.
However, Zsolt does not come across as a spoiled
rich kid given expensive toys to fill in his days and keep him from
getting under his father’s feet. He attends university, studying
technical management and design draughting, but considers that his
main profession is race car driving, competing at an international
level for six years. In that time he has raced in F Renault, F Renault
2000, F3 and F3000, competing against others who have raced in F1 as
Pizzonia and another newcomer, Bruni (his team-mate at Minardi for
2004). During last year he was also a test driver for Jordan and raced
in Hungary and Monza, standing in for the injured Firman.
To make your race debut, it would be preferable to
have everything set up beforehand, and prepare yourself mentally for
the event. Zsolt did not get that luxury. Ralph Firman had crashed and
was not fit to race. With two hours notice, Zsolt was strapped in a
car that was set up for Firman. “It was difficult to get into any
rhythm because the car was not set up for me,” explained Zsolt,
“But I think I handled it quite well.” History records that he did
indeed keep his nose clean, both in Hungary and at Monza.
In the minds of many F1 enthusiasts there are the
fairly recent memories of other drivers who have appeared without a
significant, dominant, winning history in the lower formulae. Minardi
‘pay drivers’ being amongst them. I broached the subject with
Zsolt Baumgartner and he was quite frank with his replies. “Pay
drivers? It’s not really just about money, but the guy with the
budget will get the drive. It has been this way for many years and you
have to have a sponsor behind you in F3, F Renault 2000 and F3000 all
Drivers with cash behind them become good catches
for the cash-strapped teams, and Zsolt with a reputed USD 4 mill
behind him this year (Hungarian government and Tourism Authority, oil
companies, banks and others) says that he was approached by Eddie
Jordan. “Eddie made an offer - but was asking too much money, then
he had problems with other sponsors - Benson and Hedges wanted an
English driver - but I think it will go to Verstappen as he has 15
million.” Money talks, talent walks?
We also explored the lack of ultimate results he
has had in, say, F3000. “In F3000 you have to fight the car. F1 is
more precise and suits my style which is smoother and more flowing.
Braking in F1 is massive. Doing 300 kays and braking at 50 metres at
Monza, for example. There are drivers who can do this, and some who
can’t. F3000 drivers are not necessarily quick enough in F1.” He
continued, “F1 is about a lot of luck and a good car. You (also)
need very good mental preparation. It is just as important as all the
other things. I select where I take the risks, and it’s not on the
first lap. In 72 laps, much can happen.”
He looks upon this coming year with Minardi as part
of the progression he wants for himself. “I have to work up through
the smaller teams, like any other driver,” and “want to catch
Jordan and score a couple of points,” as the immediate aim.
After an hour with Zsolt Baumgartner I came away
with a different opinion than I had before meeting him personally. I
was impressed by his attitude and intellect, both important factors in
making it to the top (in any sport).
Whether he makes it this year in F1 will depend,
not upon his sponsorship package, but whether he does have the ability
in this type of vehicle. He has the faith in himself, and I hope it is
not misdirected. Zsolt Baumgartner is a nice chap and a wonderful
ambassador for his home country.
Melbourne on March 7 will soon show what all the new drivers are
capable of. Will Zsolt Baumgartner make it? I actually think he might!
When the flag drops, the bullsh*it stops!