GP2 Series champion Giorgio Pantano should be given another chance to show what he can do in Formula One, according to the man who guided the Italian to the feeder series title this year.
In line with comments made by out-going champion Timo Glock and others - although not necessarily agreeing with McLaren boss Ron Dennis - Racing Engineering owner Alfonso de Orleans insists that Pantano has what it takes to deserve a second shot at the top flight, having seen off Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi to claim the GP2 crown in a tense finale at Monza ten days ago.
Pantano took four wins in the course of the season, and was denied more by a combination of misfortune and the odd mistake, but had a comfortable twelve-point cushion over Senna after clinching the title with one round to go. The Italian, however, has 'previous' in Formula One, with many preferring to remember his difficult season with Jordan in 2004 rather than what he has achieved since then.
"Giorgio deserves the chance to do F1 next year," de Orleans maintained in an interview with Crash.net Radio
, "People say 'ah, but he's too old', but there are drivers much older than him in F1. Of all the drivers we've had [at Racing Engineering], the only other that I would say was in [Pantano's] league was Justin Wilson - who went to F1. Okay, Justin didn't get a proper chance, but Giorgio is just like him.
"He knows how to work a team, how to be professional. He knows how to give the right feedback, which is very important for the engineers to do their work properly, and he's really quick. So I see no reason for F1 teams not to take him. Considering some of the drivers they have got, Giorgio is much faster than them...."
Rightly or wrongly, Pantano also appears to have earned a reputation for being difficult to work with, but no-one at Racing Engineering would agree with that assessment.
"I have to admit that a lot of people told me 'oh, Giorgio, he's so complicated and all that....', but either he's changed or people are making that up, because we've had a Giorgio that's been extremely co-operative, extremely professional," de Orleans continued, "I'm not his manager, so there's no reason for me to put all flowers on him, but the reality is that he's very calm, very professional, and gets things done. He sits for hours and hours with the engineers to get these things done, and is absolutely stunning at setting up cars, working with people and putting the team at ease. He really is F1 material, so either he's changed or people are trying to make excuses for mistakes they've
The authoritative Spaniard was quick to point out that Pantano brought more to his squad than the experience of several years in F3000 and then GP2, and that he had blended seamlessly with Racing Engineering's technical team as both sides focused on landing a title they felt had unjustly eluded them in the past.
"Our engineers had a really good idea of what we wanted to do with the car so, when Giorgio came, they actually worked very well together - let's say it was a good co-operation between the sides," de Orleans explained, "Yes, Giorgio has this tremendous experience, but what he brought the most was sheer out-and-out speed. The guy was absolutely incredible - whenever we needed to get the pole position or he needed to get the win, that's where he would shine, absolutely shine. He was fantastic for that.