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Minardi-Briatore - the deal is done

MINARDI is expected to announce in Japan that the restructuring of its shareholdings has now been completed and that the team is effectively owned by Flavio Briatore, managing-director of the Benetton F1 team and owner of Ligier.

Briatore and Giancarlo Minardi are understood to have met on Thursday to finalize details of the deal which sees Briatore take 60% of the company while Minardi and his partner Beppe Lucchini retain 15% each. Minardi will remain the managing-director of the team.

Minardi has been forced to do the deal because of mounting debts and uncertainty about the team's future. The team is soon expected to announce that it has concluded a deal with Cosworth for a supply of Ford ED3 engines.

Briatore's intervention appears to be at the behest of Bernie Ecclestone who is keen to build up the smaller teams, which are signatories to the Concorde Agreement. Flavio will no doubt turn a profit on the deal as well.

For the immediate future Minardi needs to sort out his drivers for the coming year. The team had been expected to run youngsters Giancarlo Fisichella and Tarso Marques but as neither has much money this is unlikely. Rumors in Europe suggest that Fisichella will be transferred to Ligier as team mate to Olivier Panis while Minardi will find drivers with money. A likely candidate is Ricardo Rosset, although he is believed to be in contact with Tyrrell. Minardi was spotted recently in conversation with rising star Ricardo Zonta, the Brazilian who has won the last two rounds of the F3000 Championship - and who has backing from Condor supermarkets and Brazil's national oil company Petrobras.

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