2003 - Trust me...

At the end of the 2002 season a new logo made its way onto the Minardi, that of Russian natural gas giant Gazprom. Gazprom, Russia's largest company, was set to be one of the major sponsors for the 2003 season and a welcome financial boost for Minardi, much needed now that the majority of the Malaysian cash had gone together with driver Alex Yoong. As a result of the deal, Russian driver Sergei Zlobin ran a few of tests with the team. The money never came, however, and the logos which appeared on the car at the start of the season were useless. The company's stickers were removed after the Spanish GP. Minardi had completed its line up in early January by signing talented British rookie Justin Wilson and Dutch veteran Jos Verstappen.

Verstappen brought good sponsorship from various Dutch sponsors such as computer peripherals company Trust and real estate group Muermans. Wilson had funded his season by selling shares in himself, promising investors a good return on their money should he progress to a high-paying job at a larger team. Minardi had in the meantime signed an expensive deal with Cosworth that would allow the team to use competitive engines for the first time since 1991. There were those who before the season had started spoke of the strongest package in the team's history. This was not the case, as due to a lack of funds, the 2003 car was little changed from its predecessor.

Things looked even less sound when it was revealed that Minardi had not yet signed a tyre deal. The contract with Michelin had expired and wasn't extended, with Bridgestone dragging its heals over supplying Minardi. The situation got so bad, that Jos Verstappen had to do his first test run (in a 2001 car) on Avon F3000 slicks. Minardi eventually signed a contract with Bridgestone and the first shake down of the 2003 contender took place at Fiorano. An 11th spot at the Australian GP was a reasonable start to the season, but is was nothing like the triumph the team had enjoyed at the previous edition of the event.

Wilson, however, got off to a magnificent start and found himself in the top ten within a few laps. At a soaking wet and chaotic Brazilian race, Minardi seemed to be within reach of its first victory, and Paul Stoddart believes until this day that he had the strategy to win the event. With much of the race happening behind the safety car and the event being stopped after 54 laps, Minardi had the right strategy by finishing the race without stopping and filling up the car to the brim at the start. The race was later won by Fisichella who was behind Verstappen initially. Such hopes were dashed when Verstappen spun off track, while in 6th position.

To compensate for the loss of the Russian sponsorship, Verstappen's backer Trust upped its investment in the team and received more exposure on Minardi's side pods. Off track, Minardi found itself at the centre of a dispute between team bosses and Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. The big teams, most notably Williams and McLaren, objected to the idea of smaller teams such as Minardi getting a larger stake in TV revenues, known as the "fighting fund". It all climaxed at a press conference in Canada when Paul Stoddart, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and Eddie Jordan fought out a war of words. Ron Dennis told Paul Stoddart: "F1 is not a soup kitchen, if you can't stand the heat, get out". Ecclestone stepped in and vowed to bail out Minardi should it be necessary.

While performance didn't really improve all year and Verstappen became increasingly upset with the lack of progress, the Dutchman managed to come up with a small sensation. He came in first at the Friday qualifying session at Magny Cours. The track was damp at the start of the session but had consistently dried up, making it almost dry when the Minardi duo went out. Justin Wilson had come in second but was disqualified because his car was too light. In spite of that it was indeed a sensational result: the first time a Minardi was fastest in a Friday session. Because he had shown to be worth a seat in a better car, Justin Wilson was promoted to join Jaguar from the German Grand Prix onwards. Minardi called in the services of Danish driver Nicolas Kiesa to replace him. At the end of the season both Verstappen and Trust's CEO Michel Perridon decided that they were not going to stay with Minardi.