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Biography

SEASON INFORMATION
13/01/2018

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Biography

 

Like most F1 drivers Antonio began his career in karts. The youngster's first truly competitive outing was at the age of 11 and in the years that followed he went on to win a number of regional titles.

In 1996, aged 16, Antonio won the Brazilian Kart Championship while also competing in the Skip Barber Dodge Formula America series in which he finished runner-up. While attending the Skip Barber school he came to the notice of pitpass reader, and former F1 racer, Vic Elford. Vic rates him in the same class as Juan Pablo Montoya, describing him as one of the great 'brakers'.

A year later, now aged 17, Antonio was in Britain competing in the Formula Vauxhall Jr Championship, the Brazilian finished second and went one step further in 1998. He is not only the youngest driver to have won the championship but also the only non-Briton.

For 1999 Antonio progressed to the British Formula Renault Championship, which he won, in addition to finishing runner-up in the European series. To cap a magnificent year the youngster was given an F1 test with WilliamsF1.

For 2000 Antonio stepped up to F3, the self-styled 'Jungle Boy' winning the prestigious title at the first attempt with three victories, five second places and one third position.

Antonio spent 2001 and 2002 in F3000, with mixed results. In 2001 he finished 6th overall with one win, while in 2002 he finished a disappointing eighth. The season got off to a great start with a superb second in the season opener at Interlagos, but things seemed to go a little awry after that.

As well as his F3000 commitments in 2002, Antonio was also contracted to WilliamsF1 as test driver.

His progression to F1 was surely only a matter of time, therefore it came as no surprise when Jaguar revealed that it had signed the Brazilian to partner Mark Webber for 2003.

It was nightmare season for Antonio, barely had the season begun, when rumours of the youngster being dumped began circulating. His relationship with Jaguar (the company), didn't get off to the best of starts when he crashed one of its top of the range models whilst driving journalists around the Barcelona circuit.

To outsiders it was clear that Jaguar couldn't prepare two cars - some would say they couldn't prepare one car - and it was inevitable that the team with one of the busiest personnel department in F1 would soon be looking for a scapegoat.

As the rumours continued, the pressure on Antonio must have been tremendous, yet still he continued, desperately trying to prove himself.

There was talk that he had "one more race" in which to deliver (Spain) and then, just as quickly the team revealed that there wasn't an issue, and that the Brazilian's seat was safe. Therefore it didn't come as too much of a surprise when he was dumped immediately after the British GP in favour of Justin Wilson.

Throughout the episode, many of his fellow drivers, and even former employers WilliamsF1, stood by Antonio, feeling that Jaguar was giving him a hard time and putting undue pressure on him.

Following his sacking, Antonio licked his wounds before taking up an offer from WilliamsF1 to return to the fold as test driver.

He was retained in 2004, and when Ralf Schumacher was injured at Indianapolis, and third driver Marc Gene failed to impress in France and Britain, was drafted in for the German, Hungarian, Belgian and Italian races.

Although his race performances hardly set the world alight, he looked certain of a podium result at Spa, only to suffer gearbox failure. Furthermore, in his first outing for the Grove outfit, Antonio out-qualified teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, no mean feat.

At the end of the day, he had scored 6 points from 4 races, all helping to keep WilliamsF1 ahead of McLaren in the constructors' championship.

For 2005, WilliamsF1 chose to retain Antonio, however, it wasn't until moments before the launch of the new car that he learned that his role would once again be that of test driver.

Throughout the winter, the Brazilian had taken part in a number of 'shoot outs' with Nick Heidfeld, the prize being the second race seat, with the 'loser' getting the test role.

Although Heidfeld was consistently the quicker, there was little to choose. However, the final decision rested with Frank Williams, and in the end the Englishman opted for the German.

At the time there was talk of Antonio leaving WilliamsF1 and heading for the United States, though his options appeared limited.

As it happened, following a testing crash at Monza, Heidfeld was sidelined for the Italian Grand Prix, and Antonio brought in to replace him at short notice - for the second successive season the Brazilian would get an opportunity to prove himself.

Having qualified fifteenth, Antonio drove a solid race to add a further two points to his team's tally, before preparing to head back to the 'subs bench'.

However, the close proximity of the Italian and Belgian events - they were held back to back - meant that the Brazilian was back in the second FW27 at Spa, though this time he finished fifteenth, following an accident with Montoya just four laps from the finish.

At roughly the same time Antonio was crashing into Juan Pablo, Nick Heidfeld was falling off his bicycle as he cycled the highways and byways close to his home. Bad news for Nick meant good news for 'Jungle Boy' who ended up driving the second FW27 for the rest of the season.

Sadly, the remaining three races were pretty much a disaster for Antonio, and the team, the real low-point being Brazil, where both WilliamsF1s were virtually eliminated from the race just seconds after the start, following an incident with David Coulthard.

When Nico Rosberg was named as WilliamsF1's number two for 2006, it was clear that Antonio's time with the Grove outfit, and possibly F1, had come to an end.

Pitpass has a lot of respect for Vic Elford, one of motor racing's true greats, a racer who has never attracted the media adulation that some lesser drivers have enjoyed. So, if Vic says Antonio is special, he's special. Trouble is, what went wrong?

Was it simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or was 'Jungle Boy' another of those drivers that couldn't make that final step up to the pinnacle of motor sport that is F1?

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