Giorgio Pantano: Forgotton But Not Gone

Alex CowleyCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2009

F1 (and indeed motorsport in general) is not a forgiving profession. Most talented, young drivers fall far short before they are given the chance to form a successful career. The few that do get to the top stage deserve the plaudits that they receive, and yet many never get the recognition they deserve.

Like all sports, the successful few are given the majority of attention.

This can be seen in the story of Giorgio Pantano, a man who has never been able to make the transition from the lower formulae into F1. Since 2001, Pantano has been waiting in the wings, hoping to receive an opportunity to show his true metal.

So it is understandable that Pantano was furious at the lack of attention from the F1 paddock this year after dominating GP2, the acknowledged stepping stone to F1. Essentially he has become the forgotten man of motor sport, not even being given the chance to drift away in the back end of the F1.

This can be put down however to a number of factors. Firstly as I said before motorsport is not a sympathetic profession. Most drivers have to work their way up independently sourcing huge amounts of money to buy drives and impress the top teams.

Few series have teams who actually pay drivers. Indeed, in 2006, Giorgio Pantano became the first driver to be paid by a GP2 or F3000 team when he joined Campos.

So when a driver does get to F1 they receive only one shot at glory. This has been dumbed down a bit with the increased corporate aspect of F1 as teams look to develop drivers from an early age, but even so there is no safety net.

A number of promising young drivers have spent years impressing in the lower formulas but never really cut it in F1. Luciano Burti went from team to team in 2001 until badly crashing at Spa which effectively ended his F1 career. Anthony Davidson never was really given a serious chance despite loyally staying with Honda for seven years.

Norberta Fontana excelled in F3 but was never given the chance as a serious driver and vanished. All these drivers were seriously impressive year after year but either turned up at the wrong time or just didn't take their chance when it finally came.

Pantano falls into the latter category he did get his chance, when he signed with Jordan in 2004, but was unable to impress. That year he was dropped twice from the line-up, once for failed sponsorship payments and then later for a lack of results as he failed to score points.

Matters were only worsened by the fact that the man who replaced him, Timo Glock scored points on his debut and beat Jordan's then No.1 driver Nick Heidfeld. From there Pantano was never a viable option for the Jordan team. He had his one chance and he blew it.

So Pantano is a tried and tested machine and his gears certainly grind a lot more than a number of other drivers in GP2 at the moment. When Pantano won the GP2 championship there was almost an air of guilt for Pantano as he was a bit of an anomaly.

Every champion before him (Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock) have gone on to become respected F1 drivers. Even a select few who failed to win (Kazuki Nakajima, Nelson Piquet) have been given their chances and haven't fallen flat. Yet Pantano does not fit the bill they do.

At the age of 29, he is hardly an up and coming superstar. He is simply too old to be moulded into a champion; you feel his time has past and he would have to pull out the stops far more than a much younger driver with a similar reputation.

That is why drivers like Bruno Senna and Sebastien Buemi have gained the F1 driver rumours post 2008 as despite the fact they failed to win this years championship, they are far more desirable as a young potential star for a F1 team than an established relic like Pantano.

Pantano is a superb driver, he is probably the most successful F3000/GP2 driver this millennium and certainly merits a top drive after a domineering 2008 season under his belt.

In 2008, he won four races, taking the championship by 12 points despite scoring only five points in the last two rounds. Thrice he has finished in the top three as a F3000/GP2 driver thus his pedigree is without question.

But the fact that he has been so successful in that category speaks volumes of his inability to break through the barrier into F1. Despite his success he has missed the boat and is just not a desirable option for a F1 team anymore. During 2004 he got the reputation as a pay driver, essentially a guy with more money than talent.

That might not be true but his disastrous year compounded this thought as he failed to qualify higher than 15th and his best result was 13th. He also had the strange affliction of over driving the car but at the same time being too conservative. Such a dreadful reputation destroyed his hopes in F1 and explains his prolonged stay in GP2.

However you do have to feel sympathy for Giorgio Pantano who has done so much to become a F1 driver but has never been given a serious chance. But in the end it speaks volumes about the highly competitive and cut throat world of motor sport that Giorgio, despite his obvious talent, will never get a chance in F1.