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FEBRUARY 8, 1999

Minardi names two new boys

MINARDI has surprised the Formula 1 circus by announcing that it will go into the 1999 season with two rookie drivers: Spain's Marc Gene and Argentina's Gastone Mazzacane. It is bad news for Japan's Shinji Nakano who is unlikely to find work this year as officially there is now only one drive left in F1 this year - as Mika Salo's team mate at Arrows. This seat is expected to go to Spain's Pedro de la Rosa although Japan's Tora Takagi is also in the running. There have also been rumors that Salo may be dropped to make way for De la Rosa and Takagi - both of whom have considerable money.

Mazzacane is 23 and the more experienced of the two new Minardi drivers. He has spent two years racing in FormulaÊ3000 with Astromega, although he has not scored any major results. Prior to racing in F3000 he raced in Formula 3 in Italy and South America, finishing second in the South American series in 1993. We understand that much of Mazzacane's backing comes from the sponsorship deals which had been put together between Minardi and Argentine companies around EstebanÊTuero. When he decided to quit F1 Minardi looked for another Argentine to take his place.

Gene is 24 and the brother of former Formula 3000 racer Jordi Gene. From Barcelona, he has competed in a handful of Formula 3000 races in the past but was more successful in last year's Spanish Nissan-based single-seater series. The two drivers are expected to have to do a certain number of miles of testing to qualify for F1 Superlicences.

Gene brings an estimated $7m of sponsorship from Spanish telecom giant Telefonica. This is Spain's richest company and is a big player is South America where it has 25m clients and owns stakes in telephone companies in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. Telefonica has been involved in motorcycle racing in recent years as the backer of Sito Pons's 500cc team with its MoviStar mobile phone service.

Minardi will unveil its full package in Barcelona today.