Friday June 29th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Minardi could replace Brazilian driver Tarso Marques this season and are talking to four engine suppliers about 2002, team boss Paul Stoddart said at the French Grand Prix on Friday.
The Australian-born businessman denied, however, that a deal had already been agreed to make Alex Yoong Malaysia's first Formula One driver. "Basically there is no deal, contrary to what's been circulating around," said Stoddart, who arrived in France from Malaysia where he discussed possible sponsorship deals with that country's prime minister.
"I went out there, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister. What we talked more about is furthering Malaysia's interest in Formula One and obviously a driver would be an ideal choice," he said, adding however that until Yoong had a test drive with the team, no decision could be made and at the moment no changes were planned in the driver line-up.
Several other racers, including Italian Formula 3000 driver Andrea Piccini, are to have tests in July, Stoddart added, but no date has been fixed for Yoong and it might not happen before September because there was no testing in August. "I'm not sure there is actually enough time to put Yoong in and certain criteria have to be met," he said.
Malaysian newspapers reported this week that Yoong could have a real chance of driving for the team by the Hungarian Grand Prix in August or the US Grand Prix in September. Stoddart, though, said the team had not yet applied for a super-licence for the Malaysian.
"He's got to do some testing first," Stoddart explained. "Until I see what he's like in the car I'm not going to be doing anything more with him."
On the engine front, Stoddart confirmed that Minardi, who have claimed only one World Championship point in the past five years, were talking to Asiatech, Ford, Renault and Ferrari. He added that there was also an option to develop their existing Ford-based engine and a sixth mystery manufacturer he would not name.
Brazilian Marques returned to Formula One this season, after Stoddart bought the ailing team in January, following a previous spell with Minardi in 1996-97.
"It's well known Tarso is on a race by race deal," he said. "If the right driver comes along we will try him out. Hungary is a possibility, Hockenheim or any other race for that matter. If we find someone that we think ought to go in the car, we'll put him in.
"But the driver line-up for this year may not change and the driver line-up for next year may not be any of the people, apart obviously from Fernando (Alonso), that we are now dealing with."
Spaniard Alonso, still just 19, has impressed many people this season with his ability and is confirmed for 2002 although he is on a long-term contract with Renault.
Stoddart said Minardi were eager to develop Malaysian and Far Eastern involvement in the team, and sponsorship discussions were not tied to an interest in Yoong.
"They clearly would like to be more involved," he said. "We've got to be creative and we've got to find the niche market and we've identified the Far East. Australia obviously is interesting for me as well and we would like to pull in sponsorship from that part of the world and the Australasia rim.
"We'll be doing a lot to try and get the Australasian flavour into formula one for next year. We missed the boat this year because we started too late, I'm not about to make that mistake twice."
Published at 21:55:46 GMT