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Minardi is saved!

GABRIELE RUMI said he was never coming back to Formula 1 when he quit the sport a few weeks ago but the deal he had struck with the PanAmerican Sports Network was never completed and now Rumi is back in charge at Faenza. Once again he is looking for a buyer and in the meantime trying to find a way of keeping the team alive.

He has one card up his sleeve: Fernando Alonso. The young Spanish driver has been on everyone's shopping list in recent days but he has a five-year deal with Minardi and the team intend to keep him to it. It may, in the end, be wiser for the team to sell the contract and take on two pay-drivers to keep the team alive but for the moment this is not the plan and Rumi says that in all probability the team will use the same Fondmetal V10 engines which were used this year, rather than the expensive Supertec engines which are on offer.

This may not be as bad an idea as it sounds. The 1999 Ford engines were very good indeed at the time, enabling the Stewart team to win the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. In 2000 they were not a match for other engines but at the same time they had none of the exotic materials used in rival engines. In theory, therefore, the engines could be more competitive in 2001 than they were in 2000. If all goes to plan they will be prepared for Minardi by Robert Langford's engineering business. The team is believed to have found at least one major sponsor in Leaseplan, although this money is believed to be tied to Alonso. But with Telefonica and PSN both ending their support of the team, Minardi is going to need more money to survive. Having ended the season in 10th place in the Constructors' Championship, ahead of Prost, there will be a lot more television money this season but it will still take a lot more to run the team for a year.

Rumi is already owed a considerable sum by Minardi (which PSN had been committed to paying) but if nothing else he can use the team to promote his family Fondmetal wheel-making business.

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