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Webber to drive Arrows Formula One car
Mark Webber finally steps into Formula One tonight (Australian time) with a test drive for Arrows
9 December 1999
YOUNG Australian driver Mark Webber steps into the spotlight tonight (Australian time) when he drives an Arrows Formula One car for the first time.
Webber has rushed to Spain for the unexpected test, where he will share the track with most of the top teams, including world champion McLaren.
The 23-year-old will spend two days testing with Arrows after a deal was struck between his new Formula 3000 team boss, expatriate Australian Paul Stoddart, and Arrows owner Tom Walkinshaw.
He will become the first Australian to drive for an F1 team since David Brabham raced with the ill-fated Simtek team in 1994.
Webber has been under close scrutiny by F1 teams during his rapid rise in recent years but still requires considerable financial backing to crack the big time - like all drivers, Schumacher and Hakkinen included.
Stoddart's European Formula Racing team has just become the official Arrows Junior F1 team and Webber will be the lead driver in next year's FIA International F3000 Championship - the established training ground for Grand Prix racing.
Webber's big break is understood to have come about because Arrows' contracted drivers, Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa and Dutchman Jos Verstappen, made themselves unavailable.
Verstappen is understood to be a candidate to replace Alex Zanardi at Williams.
Webber received the call-up from Arrows while in Nice, France, attending a conference for his Australian sponsor, Yellow Pages.
On arrival in Barcelona today, Webber said he would grab the opportunity with both hands and drive as fast as he could to impress the F1 world.
Ironically, Verstappen first came to prominence in similar circumstances when he tested for Arrows six years ago, setting fast times which led to him joining Benetton the following season as teammate to Michael Schumacher.
Webber knows the Barcelona circuit extremely well, having completed hundreds of laps testing GT cars there for Mercedes- Benz over the past year or two.
Just two weeks ago he gained valuable recent experience of the circuit - and of open-wheeler racing cars after a break of two years - when he tested European Racing's F3000 Lola, setting the fastest time on one of the two days.
Although Arrows has struggled in F1, the team will benefit from having the latest Renault-based Supertec V10 engines in 2000.
Stoddart is the owner of European Aviation, one of Britain's most successful aviation companies, which has been a sponsor of Jordan Grand Prix in recent seasons.
Under the new deal for 2000, this sponsorship will transfer to Arrows and Stoddart will be able to nominate a test driver for the F1 team, but Webber must provide a multi-million dollar budget to secure the seat for the whole season.
"I'm really looking forward to my return to single-seater racing next season and the opportunity to compete in such a competitive series as International Formula 3000," said Webber before the F1 test was decided.
"I've been very encouraged by how things have gone in recent testing and the fact that European Formula Racing has been able to forge an alliance with TWR Arrows is a good indication of the high standards and goals Paul Stoddart is setting for his team in 2000.
"On a more personal note, Paul has really helped to turn my season around after the events at Le Mans and has made a lot of things possible - and for those I'm really grateful.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead of us and hope I can cause a few surprises along the way."
Stoddart, who this year entered highly regarded British drivers Oliver Gavin and Jamie Davies, has enormous confidence in Webber's ability and wants to help him into F1.
"Mark's times during the Barcelona test were exemplary given the little amount of time he has actually had in the car. His technical feedback is excellent and he is a real team player," Stoddart said.
"I feel certain he will be a championship contender next year and I can see his drive with us as just the first step of his quest towards his ultimate goal of Formula One.
"Together, I hope we can turn it into a reality."
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