McLaren-Mercedes test driver Alexander Wurz will compete in his first grand prix for four years when he substitutes Juan-Pablo Montoya at Imola this weekend. The San Marino Grand Prix will arguably be the biggest opportunity of the lanky Austrian's career.

McLaren-Mercedes test driver Alexander Wurz will compete in his first grand prix for four years when he substitutes Juan-Pablo Montoya at Imola this weekend. The San Marino Grand Prix will arguably be the biggest opportunity of the lanky Austrian's career.



Wurz got his first break in Formula One when he substituted Gerhard Berger at the then Benetton team for three grands prix in 1997, scoring his best finish (third place) at Silverstone that year. Although he accumulated 17 points and finished eighth in the Drivers' Championship in 1998 (he was fourth in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Britain and Canada), Wurz scraped a meagre three points in 1999 and just two points 2000, after which he left Benetton (now Renault) to become McLaren-Mercedes' test driver.


Observers believed Wurz's role at McLaren-Mercedes would enable him to secure a drive at one of the top F1 teams (Olivier Panis was recruited by Toyota while he was a test driver for the Woking-based team, for example). However, Wurz was passed over for Kimi Raikkonen when Mika Hakkinen retired and rumours that the Austrian would replace Eddie Irvine at the now-defunct Jaguar Racing team proved unfounded. In addition, Wurz's height, 1,86m, not only made it difficult for him to fit into cockpits, but designers and race engineers struggled to balance the F1 cars he drove.


Fellow veteran Pedro de le Rosa was drafted to stand in for the injured Juan-Pablo Montoya in Bahrain three weeks ago and the Spaniard duly finished in the points for McLaren. However, Wurz, who set the pace in the Friday practice sessions before the Middle East event, was regarded unlucky to miss his first taste of grand prix racing since the end of the 2000 season that weekend.


Despite an earlier report to the contrary, Montoya has not fully recovered from the shoulder injury he sustained during the Easter weekend. After resting his shoulder for three weeks, the Colombian has undergone a number of tests and scans, following which the medical experts have advised that it is still too soon for Juan Pablo to return to the MP4-20 cockpit.


"The healing process is well advanced but the need to keep the shoulder immobilised has naturally led to some minor muscle atrophy. Having evaluated the progress of the healing process today, the team and Juan Pablo expect that he will be back in action at the Spanish Grand Prix," the team said in a statement.


Although there was speculation that the MP4-20 could not be adapted to Wurz's dimensions in time for the desert race, the Austrian will definitely campaign the McLaren-Mercedes in the San Marino Grand Prix and he relishes the prospect.


"I am really happy to have the opportunity to race MP4-20 this coming weekend at Imola," said Wurz. "Since joining the team at the end of 2000, I have completed over 70 000 km in testing and it will be great to have the chance to actually race a McLaren."


"I am looking forward to getting back to competitive action and hope I can secure a good result for the team. The Imola circuit is all about braking hard and accelerating, with all the chicanes and short straights, which means traction, braking performance and stability under braking are all key. To get a good lap, you need to be aggressive and really attack the kerbs. It goes without saying that I wish Juan Pablo a very speedy recovery," he added.

Original article from Car