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GP Week : Issue 19
34 Giorgio Pantano is an enigma. A phenomenon. Having excelled at every level of his career, he now leads the GP2 series as its most successful driver of all time. But will F1 give him the shot his talent merits? WILL BUXTON investigates B ACK in 2002 I sat down with former racer turned driver- manager Alf Boarer for a coffee at a cold and windy Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. His young charge was out on track testing for Williams, and Boarer was excited. “I think if he is given time in a Formula 1 car he will become one of the sport’s superstars,” he smiled. “I really do believe that, like Raikkonen, he’s one of the few who can seriously challenge Schumacher.” Fast forward five and a half years and Schumacher has long since retired. Raikkonen is now an F1 world champion. But Giorgio Pantano is still in GP2, peering through a misty window to a life that could and should have been his. “When Jenson [Button] and I first made it into karting, Giorgio was the man,” reflects Anthony Davidson. “He was awesome, and we both knew that if we wanted to succeed we had to aim for him.” Davidson isn’t joking. Between 1993 and 1999 Giorgio dominated the karting world. In 2000, in his first full season of single-seater racing he won the German F3 (now Euro F3) title before moving up to F3000 where he won the last race of his first season at his beloved home track of Monza. He would go on to win races in every F3000 season he contested, testing for Benetton and McLaren along the way, until 2004 when he got the F1 race seat he’d always dreamed of. Unfortunately it was at the broken Jordan team, and a year of under- development, bad management by new hangers on, and financial instability shattered the dream and pushed Giorgio out of the life he craved. Looking back, he is philosophical. “For me I was probably too young when I did the tests. Maybe not young, but not with enough experience to start testing a Formula 1 car. I was only just in Formula 3 and to come from that to an F1 car was a really big step with no experience. The moment in 2004 was just the wrong choice because, OK I’ve been in Formula 1 but I didn’t have the chance to show anything. “I don’t regret it. If I had to go back, no, I wouldn’t change it, but today I wouldn’t go back into that situation. If I have a chance to go back into F1 I want something much, much better.” I took the time at Silverstone to have another chat with Alf Boarer, five years on from our first meeting. What remains obvious, is that while Boarer and Pantano’s professional relationship may have faltered in 2004, Alf has lost none of the passion for the racer that lives inside Giorgio. His eyes light up whenever he speaks of him. “He was a phenomenon,” Alf beams. “He got into German F3 and he won his first race. Then he went on and won the championship … in his first season! Unfortunately, because he was Italian and there were a lot of Italians in F1 at that time, people just sort of ignored it. But he then went on to do F3000 and in his second season finished second to Bourdais, two points adrift. “But he’s also been his own worst enemy with some of the people he’s had hanging on to him through his career and trying to guide him. He listened to too many people when he was younger and I think he finally realises that it’s him who people will want, and not all the people around him.” Looking back, Giorgio now agrees that the people with whom he surrounded himself in 2004, the people that led to his lost shot at F1, were wrong for him. “Management matters. A lot! My career was damaged by the people who were following me. But if I didn’t have these people at the