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Briatore gets Alonso

FLAVIO BRIATORE, the chief executive of Benetton, has signed a deal to take over Minardi's five-year contract with 19-year-old Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. The youngster's career will now be controlled by the Italian entrepreneur until the end of the 2004. Alonso signed the deal with Minardi a year ago when the little Italian outfit was about to be bought by the Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica. If that deal had gone to plan the team would have been relocated to Spain and would have been managed by Spaniard Joan Villadelprat.

Telefonica and Minardi were never able to agree terms but Alonso raced in Telefonica colors in Formula 3000 with the Astromega team and test drove for Minardi. In the midseason, however, Telefonica chairman Juan Villalonga resigned from his position and his replacement Fernando Abril-Martorell decided that he no longer wanted the company to be involved in Grand Prix racing. Alonso was expected to stay with Minardi with backing from the Belgian finance company Leaseplan.

In recent weeks various Formula 1 teams have been showing an interest in Alonso, who shot to prominence when he won the Spa round of the Formula 3000 series (his only win of the year). There was talk of a deal with Ferrari but it seems that Alonso has decided that the best option on offer is to work with Briatore. Minardi had no real choice but to let the Spaniard go because it was without an engine deal for next year and Briatore controls the supply of Supertec V10 engines. These will not be as competitive in 2001 as they were this year with Benetton and Arrows but they will still give the team the chance to show well. Minardi has been struggling since a deal to buy the team between majority shareholder Gabriele Rumi and South American TV company PSN fell through.

The deal with Briatore does not mean that Alonso will not drive for Minardi this year. Briatore has no space for him at Benetton, having already signed deals with Giancarlo Fisichella, Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Alonso's manager former GP driver Adrian Campos said some weeks ago that he felt that a Minardi-Supertec deal would be "perfect" for Alonso.

The deal with Alonso may not be with Benetton itself but rather with Briatore's own management company. It is unlikely that Alonso would have agreed to the deal if he had not been given an undertaking that there would be a drive for him in F1 this year. Briatore has signed similar deals in the past with drivers such as Fisichella and Jarno Trulli.

The deal means that Minardi's predicament is rather less worrying than it was a few weeks ago. The team now has access to a cheaper supply of engines and may still have access to the services of Alonso. With Marc Gene having moved to Williams the team needs to find another driver but with the neat Minardi chassis mated to a Supertec engine the overall package could be quite competitive and might attract a rather better driver than the usual pay-drivers. With Gaston Mazzacane trying to do a deal to race for Arrows, it could be that Jos Verstappen will end up at Minardi.

Minardi boss Gabriele Rumi continues to try to sell the team and although Briatore has expressed an interest it is unlikely that this will happen as team founder Giancarlo Minardi is opposed to such a deal and still enjoys considerable influence as he is understood to control a big percentage of the voting shares in the team.

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