Jaguar Racing has confirmed speculation that neither Eddie Irvine or Pedro de la Rosa would be on its payroll next season, by announcing Antonio Pizzonia as Mark Webber's team-mate for the next Formula One campaign.

The 22-year old Brazilian and 26-year old Australian Webber replace the older pairing of Irvine (36) and de la Rosa (31) with immediate effect, and represent a new direction for Jaguar which, with the exception of Luciano Burti, has tended to rely on experienced drivers since it took over Stewart Grand Prix's entry.

"I am thrilled to be welcoming Antonio and Mark to Jaguar Racing for what promises to be an exciting and new partnership in Formula One," said Jaguar Racing CEO and team principal Niki Lauda.

"In Antonio, or 'Jungle Boy' as he has been nicknamed, we have a very gifted raw racer who will undoubtedly inject a new lease of life into Formula One. His speed and racing instinct are what attracted us to him and I have little doubt in his ability to shake-up the establishment in a big way. Mark, on the other hand, has solid F1 experience and now's his chance to prove exactly what he's capable of. We have two very different characters and I have every intention of revving them up in an effort to extract the maximum from them.

"Team orders is not something we play by at Jaguar and, if anything, these two drivers will be under strict instructions to go out and fight each other on the race track - as well as everyone else, of course! We are red-blooded racers at Jaguar and, from what I have seen of Antonio and Mark, I am confident of seeing a very competitive duel next season."

After three seasons with the team, Irvine's valuable contribution to the development and growth of Jaguar Racing was congratulated by Lauda, for whom the Irishman has the greatest respect.

"I cannot thank Eddie enough for his hard-work and commitment during the last three seasons," the Austrian commented, "He has been with us right from day one and, while there have been some difficult and challenging periods to endure, Eddie's resilience and focus remained throughout. His experience, speed and racecraft are exemplary, and the decision to replace him in no way reflects upon his clear ability as a competitive racer."

de la Rosa joined Jaguar Racing in April 2001, and made his debut for the team at his home race in Spain, but has been released from a contract that was due to run until the end of next season.

"Pedro has unfortunately struggled with some aspects of the programme and in simple terms, it hasn't really worked out for either party," Lauda admitted, "It's unfortunate, yes, but that's Formula One. We wanted to adopt a fresh approach for next year, and our strategy is firmly geared towards making progress at all levels of the business."

Webber and Pizzonia first tested the Jaguar R3 in Barcelona earlier this year, during an evaluation exercise aimed at exploring the team's options for the 2003 season. At the time, Webber was contesting the season with the KL Minardi Asiatech team, while Pizzonia spent the 2002 season contesting the FIA F3000 Championship. It remains unclear whether Webber's move will ease the process of Minardi securing Cosworth powerplants for 2003.

Both drivers will begin testing duties with Jaguar Racing after the winter test ban is lifted from 26 November onwards.

[photo by David Lopez]

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