Thursday June 14th, 2001
Minardi are looking to replace Brazilian Tarso Marques and have offered Malaysian Alex Yoong a chance to become his country's first Formula One driver.
"Minardi have actually made an offer," Yoong's British manager Simon Munger told Reuters by telephone on Friday, adding that it was now a question of exploring sponsorship possibilities. "A lot of things have yet to be done before that ever becomes a reality.
"Minardi are interested in Alex and it's a case of seeing between Minardi and ourselves whether we can clear the decks of all the problems."
The driver has also to secure the necessary FIA superlicense to race in Formula One and has current commitments and sponsorship agreements in Japan with the Formula Nippon series. Malaysian newspapers said 24-year-old Yoong could make his debut as early as next month's British Grand Prix although Munger said that was still speculation.
"In terms of actually driving at Silverstone, or Germany or Hungary that's still to be determined," he said. "It's a case of just exploring all the possibilities."
Minardi, who have not scored a point in Formula One since 1999, could not confirm that any formal offer had been made and said they continued to talk to a number of drivers and potential sponsors.
However, Formula One sources said the team were moving towards finding a replacement for Marques, signed after struggling Minardi were bought by Australian businessman Paul Stoddart in January. Marques, who raced for Minardi in 1996-97 without scoring a point, has been regularly outqualified by 19-year-old team mate Fernando Alonso despite having more experience than Spanish novice.
Stoddart said last month that Alonso, who is under a long-term contract with Benetton owners Renault, would be staying with Minardi next season. He was quoted in British weekly Autosport this week as saying that he was looking for another driver but no decision had yet been made and there was "likely to be no change in the short term."
"We are not specific to one driver yet. When we are, we will give him a test and if he proves good enough then we will promote him to the race seat," Stoddart added.
Minardi sporting director Rupert Manwaring travelled to Malaysia, which hosted the second race of this season, for business meetings after last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix. Malaysian papers quoted Sports Minister Hishammuddin Hussein as confirming on Friday that Yoong had been offered a drive after meeting Manwaring.
But the minister said the government would not provide financial help for Yoong. Newspapers said the driver needs to raise $5 million in sponsorship.