More machinations at Minardi

THE company which is tipped to be negotiating to buy Minardi has just done a deal to merge a number of its operations with one of Arrows's big sponsors and it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on either of the deals. The venture capital company Hicks Muse Tate & Furst (which backs Minardi through its Panamerican Sports Network, owner of the digital TV rights to F1 in South America) has announced plans to form a more concrete relationship with the Denver-based UnitedGlobalCom, which is the parent company of the Arrows team's sponsor Chello. The two companies now intend to merge all their Latin American television operations and float the resulting company on the New York Stock Exchange. The firm will have TV businesses in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.

The deal should be completed by the end of the year but this may not be soon enough for Minardi, which is still trying to find the money to pay for its planned engine deal with Supertec. The future of title sponsor Telefonica in Formula 1 is still not certain. The Spanish company says it will remain in F1 but we hear that there have been talks with Alain Prost in addition to Minardi. The company wants to ensure that Marc Gene gets a drive if it switches to Prost. Telefonica is also trying to place the up-and-coming Spanish Formula 3000 driver Fernando Alonso.

It is also worth noting that Telefonica is taking more of an interest in other sports and recently went into partnership with the Union of European Basketball Leagues to take over the management of broadcasting, internet, merchandising, and sponsorship rights to the new European basketball league, Euroleague. This is an interesting switch in policy as Telefonica's role in basketball will now be more like Bernie Ecclestone's position in F1 and will be a self-funding sponsorship. Telefonica is guaranteeing the 24 participating teams an annual income of US$35m between them in return for the rights.

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