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JANUARY 30, 2001

Stoddart buys Minardi

AS we have been predicting for some time, Australian businessman Paul Stoddart has bought the Minardi team. Our sources suggest that Stoddart has acquired not only Gabriele Rumi's 70% shareholding but also the shares belonging to the other investors, including team founder Giancarlo Minardi. Minardi will remain a director of the team and will oversee the development of a young driver scheme. The team will be run by former Tyrrell team manager Rupert Manwaring with the management of the Italian operation being run by longtime Minardi employee Frederic Dhainaut. The 100 staff at Faenza will work alongside European Formula Racing's 45 people in Ledbury with the communication between the two factories being maintained by regular flights with one of Stoddart's fleet of aircraft. This will enable the rapid transfer of people and parts as the team rushes to get two cars finished in time for the start of the season in Australia.

Stoddart and Manwaring worked together at Tyrrell after the team was taken over by British American Racing and know how destructive it can be to announce the closure of a factory, and so intend to keep Faenza operating as normal. This will give Stoddart the time to finish the construction of his windtunnel at Ledbury. The half-scale rolling road facility is already designed and a building is already completed to house it so it could be operational within a year. Production of parts for the cars will be done in both factories while the race team will remain in Faenza. In the longer term it is likely that all operations will be moved to England but at the moment the new owners do not want to waste the skill and experience available in Italy.

As expected the engines will be called European V10s and will be versions of the 1998 Ford V10. Stoddart is hoping that these engines will be upgraded in the course of the season by engineers working at Robert Langford's preparation firm in Wellingborough. Although there are no official links with Cosworth, the engineers working with Langford, led by Mark Parish, are all Cosworth men, who previously worked on Cosworth's F1 customer engine program.

The team has yet to confirm who will drive but we expect Spain's Fernando Alonso to be one of the drivers. He has substantial sponsorship available. Enrique Bernoldi is another option but the Brazilian is currently trying hard to get an Arrows drive as Tom Walkinshaw is having trouble agreeing terms with Pedro de la Rosa's sponsor Repsol-YPF. This could open the way for de la Rosa to drive for Stoddart. Pedro and Stoddart know each other well as the European boss was an Arrows sponsor last year. We hear that there is also the possibility of a young Dutch driver who has considerable sponsorship behind him. It is unclear who this might be but it could be European's Formula 3000 driver Christjian Albers or perhaps the 1998 Italian Formula 3 Champion Donny Crevels.

For the interim the race is on to get things ready for Australia and the team is being very careful about making any claims about how they will perform.

"It is undoubtedly a huge challenge but everyone is up for it," said Stoddart. "We do not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead of us but the logistical issues involved in operating factories in two different countries are eased considerably by the fact that European has its own airline and can do things at a pace that other companies would find impossible."

The first Minardi-European PS01 is now nearing completion in Faenza. This is the work of the Minardi technical team led by Gustav Brunner, which includes Gabriele Tredozi and George Ryton.