Stoddart to buy Minardi?

PAUL STODDART, the Australian multimillionaire who runs the European Formula F3000 team, is rumored to be on the verge of buying Minardi. The Italian team has been looking for a buyer since the talks with the PSN network broke down at the end of last year. The team has since lost a number of staff while owner Gabriele Rumi looked for a new owner. Stoddart has long harboured ambitions of owning a Formula 1 team and is the logical man to move into F1 as he has been quietly building up production capability at the European Formula facility at Ledbury in Herefordshire in the course of the last few years.

Stoddart made his fortune in airline leasing and jet parts. His interest in motor racing led him to buy a series of old F1 cars. He has collected over 40 F1 chassis, most of them Tyrrells, and he has enjoyed considerable success running and racing them in the Boss historic F1 series in Britain.

As long ago as 1997 Stoddart was becoming more involved with Tyrrell, using one of his VIP aircraft to fly the Tyrrell team to each race and then becoming involved with the plan to build a half-scale, rolling road windtunnel at European Aviation's headquarters at Bournemouth International Airport.

When Tyrrell was taken over by British American Racing Stoddart acquired much of the old Tyrrell equipment and many members of the staff. He began to run a Formula 3000 team in 1999 and won his first race last year with Mark Webber driving. Stoddart has made no secret of his desire to have his own F1 team and has been acquiring equipment, including a number of dynos which he bought after Brian Hart closed his factory. The 62,000sq ft European Formula factory features all the necessary autoclaves, a seven-post testing rig and has a new building which will house a windtunnel, which we believe is the development of the original design in 1997. European currently employs 52 people and has been involved in the manufacture of parts for a number of F1 teams and built no fewer than eight two-seater F1 cars last year for Arrows.

Minardi has been suffering from the recent confusion about its future and we hear that the number of staff is now down to under 100 but the combined operations will still make a decent start for an F1 team. The most important question for Minardi in recent weeks has been that of engines as the Mecachrome company was unable to supply the team because of the beryllium which was used in the 2000 engines. Beryllium is now banned and so the French engines cannot be used. Last year Minardi used 1998 Ford V10 engines badged as Fondmetals. These were not very competitive but with a little more development at European and, perhaps, a little more support from Cosworth, these would not be embarrassing this year. They are not, however, going to be very competitive so the 2001 season will have to be viewed as an interim year. It is not clear whether the Minardi factory will remain in Italy if Stoddart does take over but the long-term future of the Faenza operation must be in some doubt.

In all probability the team will have drivers Fernando Alonso and Enrique Bernoldi. Both have substantial backing for F1 and both have proved to be quite useful in Formula 3000.

If the news is confirmed there will be much rejoicing in Australia as it will be the first Australian-owned F1 team since Brabham (although Jack Brabham was involved in the abortive Simtek programme in 1994 and 1995).

It remains to be seen whether or not Stoddart's bid is successful but we expect that a deal will be announced shortly. Several years ago Stoddart talked about his desire to re-establish the Tyrrell name in F1 and it may be that eventually he will do that.

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