Simtek is on its last legs, the chance Simtek and Jos Verstappen would appear on the grid for the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours are zero to nothing. It is the moment Flavio Briatore rings Huub Rothengatter former Zakspeed Grand Prix driver and manager from Jos Verstappen. If Jos would be interested to test with a couple of times for the Benetton team. Only two days after returning from Monaco Jos stepped in the cockpit of the Benetton B195 strapped the seat belts. Starts the engine to complete 42 laps on a very wet Silverstone. In the meantime, Briatore did his best to place Verstappen at another team. Because there was no place at Benetton. So what were those choices?
I like to romanticize and agree on the story that once appeared on the web a long time ago. A story that stated that Nick Wirth was able to keep Simtek alive. He managed to sign a deal with Mugen-Honda and in all secret the Simtek S951 would fitted with that engine and be tested on several circuits. Having Jos Verstappen as their number one driver to appear at the last few races of the season. A story I wish was reality, a story that would make the Formula One in those days complete. Sadly, this was a made up story by a fan.
Only two days after the 1995 Monaco Grand Prix Verstappen was behind the wheel of the Benetton B195. That year he was also the team’s test-driver and was placed at Simtek to gain experience and become more stable to eventually return to Benetton. This obviously never happened. However, after Monaco there were a couple of options for Verstappen to return on the grid in a short-term.
Red Bull Sauber Ford
Only days after Simtek’s retirement from the Formula One the Dutch Formula One media came with the story that Jos Verstappen was close to sign a deal with Peter Sauber’s team. While they were not close at all, it was not unlikely he would appear on the grid for the French Grand Prix behind the wheel of the Sauber C14. You would think that he would replace Jean-Christophe Boullion who replaced the underperforming Wendlinger earlier in the season. No, he was in the scope to replace Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
The rumours were that Heinz would move before the French Grand Prix to McLaren full pressure was set on Ron Dennis by Mercedes to have Heinz replacing Mark Blundell. Blundell at his own stake replaced Mansell after two races. Frentzen would only be able to move if Peter Sauber would agree on the transfer. This Heinz recently confirmed to me. In that case, Jos Verstappen was 90%, sure he would replace Frentzen at Sauber. However, Frentzen would eventually stay at Sauber in 1995 get his first podium finish during the Italian Grand Prix and stay for another year with the team.
Understanding that Frentzen would stay at Sauber there was another chance for Verstappen to appear on the grid. That other team was Footwork from Jacky Oliver. Jacky was the first team in the Formula One that gave Verstappen the opportunity to test with a Formula One car. After a couple of laps during that test in 1993 at Estoril Verstappen was quick, Oliver was impressed but was unable to sign Verstappen for 1994. The team started in 1995 with Gianni Morbidelli and Taki Inoue as their drivers. It was known that Inoue had the full budget, though Morbidelli only had the budget until the French Grand Prix.
There were already rumours going that Pedro Lamy was in speaking terms with Jacky to replace Morbidelli after the French Grand Prix. However, backed by Flavio Verstappen came another serious candidate for the empty seat. Sadly, neither Jos nor Pedro would appear in the cockpit of the FA16. It was Massimiliano Papis who would race a couple of races for the team. However, after the European Grand Prix Morbidelli returned and completed the last three races of the season with a podium finish during the Australian Grand Prix.
Pacific Team Lotus
Knowing the chances to race for Footwork in 1995 were slim, there was another option available on the grid. Pacific Team Lotus was interested to bring Jos to their team. Pacific was like Simtek one of the backmarkers on the grid that season. However, the PR02 was not that bad it only lacked proper power and obviously the much needed financial backing. Bertrand Gachot one of the drivers and partly team owner of the team told that Verstappen would be the best candidate to bring the team up. He would even give up his own seat so that Verstappen would be able to race for the team.
Eventually Gachot would give up his own seat after the British Grand Prix. However, it would not be for Jos Verstappen. Italian gentleman driver Giovanni Lavaggi was the one with enough lira’s to race for the team. From the four races he drove, he retired all of them. Eventually Gachot would return in the cockpit of the PR02.
Parmalat Forti Ford
Believe it or not, but Forti was interested as well to hire Jos Verstappen as one of their drivers. While the Italian team had an all-Brazilian line up with ditto sponsors and colour scheme, the team was not happy. The FG01 was a bulky looking car that wasn’t fast at all on the tracks. How serious the talks were with the team is not sure. I can assume that Huub would not consider this as a serious attempt to keep Jos in the Formula One.
Returning to Benetton
There was also still the option for Jos to return to the Benetton team, become their third, and test driver for the rest of the season. Though, with no outlook to be a serious contender for a seat in 1996. Verstappen did test a couple of times in 1995 for the team and was twice close to replace one of their drivers. However, Verstappen choose to test. Eventually he would return in 1996 on the grid with Footwork, which would be bought by Tom Walkinshaw during the early days of 1996. We all know how this relationship eventually ended in 2002.
There was also the Ligier test in 1995. Ligier in 1995 was a copy of the Benetton team in 1994. Briatore acquired the team and simply used the 1994 design for the JS41. Verstappen was to test with the car. He did a seat fitting. However, the test never happened due to the bad weather conditions