13 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Big Break for Jefferies

ACE Zimbabwean motor racing driver Axcil Jefferies is set to take big strides towards becoming one of the world's top Formula One racing drivers when he joins Malaysia-based Caterham Racing Team this year.

The 19-year-old UK-based talented driver was recently invited to join the Caterham Racing Team following the decision by the world's motorsport governing body, FIA, to terminate Formula Two racing this year.

Jefferies last year made his debut appearance in the F2 series, which is one rung behind the world popular Formula One racing, and was looking at competing in this competition for the second time this year before moving into Formula 1 in 2014.

But in late December last year, MotorSport Vision (MSV), the operators of the FIA Formula 2 Championship, agreed with the FIA not to continue to run the series in 2013 for what would have been the fifth and final year of its contract with the FIA.

MSV chief executive, Jonathan Palmer, recently explained the reasons: "Despite launching the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2009 at the start of this major global recession it has performed well with good grids and very competitive racing over the past four years.

"As the FIA intended, F2 has always provided outstanding value and equality for its competitors. However, it has become progressively clear that the single operating team concept that enables these benefits has compromises that have, overall, reduced its appeal to drivers. We and the FIA are in agreement that any future F2 should operate on a more conventional, multi team basis.

"Other championships at F2's level have also increased their appeal through recent performance upgrades, and it is logical to conclude that in F2's final year grid numbers would reduce, perhaps significantly. I believe we have a responsibility to competitors planning their 2013 seasons and careers not to operate F2 if we are not confident of another strong season, and have therefore discussed this matter with the FIA who understand and accept our recommendation not to continue.

"MSV has a long history of major investment in junior single seater series and commitment to providing affordable racing for aspiring F1 drivers. Whilst we are disappointed that the current format of the FIA Formula 2 Championship has not been a total success we are proud of its many achievements and remain absolutely committed to innovation and investment in the business of motorsport, in particular series for young drivers.

"We have learnt a great deal over the past four years and our experiences have made MSV stronger and more capable, as we continue our discussions with the FIA regarding the long-term future of the FIA Formula 2 Championship."

The FIA commented: "The Federation has been pleased to support F2 throughout these four competitive years.

This is a racing series which has introduced many young drivers to motor racing and prepared them for higher challenges. The FIA is determined to develop a clear path for young drivers from karting to F1 and therefore reiterates our commitment to single seater racing series."

But the MSV and FIA's decision to discontinue the F2 Championship came as a blessing in disguise for young Zimbabwean driver Jefferies who has now been offered a place to compete under the Caterham Racing Team this year.

And this is likely to see Jefferies scoring a first, as he will become the first Zimbabwean to race in Formula One.

Jefferies was on Monday invited to join the Caterham Racing Team by its team manager, Phill Spencer, who said they have been monitoring the young Zimbabwean driver's progress since his successful stint in the Formula BMW Championship a couple of years ago.

Spencer, in his letter of invitation, also said they believed that Jefferies had a bright future in his motor racing career and thus their decision to invite him to be part of their team for the 2013 season.

Part of Spencer's letter sent to Jefferies on Monday read: "As Caterham GP2 Racing Team manager, I have been closely following your motor racing career since your success in Formula BMW. We keep an eye on the progress of many talented young racing drivers who we believe could make it to Formula One and consider them as drivers for our GP2 team.

"We believe that you have shown great promise and we are very interested in you driving for the Caterham Racing GP2 Team this season.

"As part of the Caterham Group, we are privileged to be the only GP2 team who is fully integrated with a Formula One team. We are based at Caterham F1 Team factory and our drivers have access to the use of the Formula One simulator and many other exclusive facilities.

"You will be fully immersed in Caterham Group and will have access to an F1 Team than any other GP2 team.

"We run the Caterham Racing GP2 Team not only as an excellent place to nurture young talent in GP2, but also as a platform to integrate drivers into the Caterham F1 Team. Giedo van der Garde, our 2012 GP2 driver, is a prime example of what is possible, as he will be racing for the Caterham F1 Team this season.

"Racing with Caterham GP2 Team is the most efficient way to reach Formula One. As you will know, Caterham Racing is highly competitive and professionally run outfit. Talented drivers do well for us -- just look at Giedo's performances last year. We believe that together you can perform at the GP2 level."

The Jefferies' camp yesterday could not hide their excitement about this latest development although they expressed their disappointment over the FIA's decision to scrap the Formula 2 Championship this year "as we were in advanced preparations for F2".

However, this may potentially be a blessing in disguise for Jefferies as the Malaysian F1 Caterham team have now offered him a role as a Caterham F1 development driver.

The role would entail Jefferies racing the Caterham GP2 car in the GP2 series.

GP2 cars are three-year-old F1 cars.

Jefferies would also have a full-time job in the Caterham F1 factory, with full access to the F1 simulator and other world class facilities. He would have the title of "Caterham F1 development driver".

Caterham F1 is owned by Malaysian billionaire Tony Fernandes (owner and founder of Air Asia).

Another attraction is the corporate colours of Caterham's green and yellow which match Zimbabwe's sporting colours.

Jefferies was yesterday "very excited" of the prospects of driving and being part of the programme.

As GP2 are faster and more powerful compared to F2, Jefferies indicated that he has raised his game in terms of fitness and mental preparation.

All GP2 races take place at F1 events with the world's media which would give Zimbabwe immense media exposure.

Races will take place in Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and across Europe.

With the well-documented plans for UNWTO underway and Jefferies as a sporting and tourism ambassador, the timing could be God-sent for Zimbabwe.

Jefferies' management team are now working flat out to secure partnership and sponsorship from the corporate world to make this dream opportunity come to fruition.

Jefferies said from his base in the UK yesterday: "This is a dream offer for us, let's all pray that we are able to secure sponsorship in time. It's in God's hands that we make it. This would be just so awesome for Zimbabwe."

Testing starts on February 26 in Spain before the first race in Malaysia on March 22.

Local motor racing fans can follow Jefferies on Facebook, Twitter and www.axciljefferies.com

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