Sunday February 11th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Minardi will use Michelin tyres in 2001 and hope to have a new engine deal agreed by mid-season.
"Final negotiations are being completed," Australian team owner Paul Stoddart said in an interview when asked about Michelin. An announcement was expected next Friday.
The team will join Williams, Jaguar, Prost and Benetton in switching to the Formula One newcomers from Bridgestone.
Stoddart said Minardi, who will use re-named Ford engines this year, were negotiating a new engine deal for 2002 with two interested parties.
"By the middle of the year we should be able to announce our engine deal for next year," he said.
Stoddart bought the team last month, saving them at a time when they had no engines or drivers.
Since then Minardi have signed 19-year-old Spaniard Fernando Alonso on a one-year loan from Benetton. Stoddart said Minardi hoped to extend that deal.
"Alonso has definitely got a future," he said. "I've watched him very closely towards the end of the Formula 3000 season last year and he is special.
"It's a one-year deal. Obviously we would like to get him for longer than that."
"I feel he's going to surprise quite a few people."
Stoddart said the team hoped to announce their second driver either on Friday or early next week.
"There's three that I think it's going to come down to -- it's a mix," he said.
"We've got experience, we've got a young charger and we've got someone who's in between."
Italian newspapers have named 33-year-old Gianni Morbidelli, a former driver with Minardi, Dallara, Arrows and Sauber and with 67 Grands Prix behind him, as a front-runner.
"Morbidelli is a good respectable driver, he's quite fit now which is actually paramount in Formula One and he's also a veteran of 65 to 70 Grands Prix," said Stoddart.
"So if we want to go for an experienced driver he would certainly be on our short list."
Stoddart said two chassis were ready for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 4 but it would be impossible to get a third ready.
"A severe accident on the Friday or Saturday is going to hurt us more than the other teams. If everything is going well, we may restrict the running on Friday."
He said Minardi, who have taken just one point in five years, expected little to come their way in 2001. "I believe that if the boys at the front of the grid do their job properly there will be very few points available for any other teams," he said.
"There could be three or four teams without points if the big four continue the way they have been in recent times.
"A point would be our goal for the whole year but we may even find ourselves top 10 with just a good finish."
He also promised a launch party to remember in Melbourne: "I can't tell you what is planned but let's just say it is nothing short of spectacular."