FEBRUARY 9, 2001
Morbidelli for Minardi?
THERE is speculation that Gianni Morbidelli may be on the verge of a Formula 1 comeback with the European Minardi team. The 33-year-old Italian has not been in Grand Prix racing since the end of 1997 but never really lived up to his potential, first seen when he subbed for Alain Prost at Ferrari in the 1991 Australian Grand Prix and finished sixth. He spent the rest of his career in F1 with middle-ranking teams, notably with Minardi and Footwork. In 1997 he returned to being a Ferrari test driver but in the midseason was called in by Sauber to replace Nicola Larini. Almost immediately he suffered a broken arm in a testing crash and so had to stand down but he then returned to Sauber towards the end of the year only to have another big accident at Suzuka which left him with a badly broken wrist. In 1998 Morbidelli drove for Tom Walkinshaw in the Volvo British Touring Car Championship team but his arm was not right and in 1999 he went back to Italian racing, competing for BMW Italia in the Italian Touring Car Championship. After more surgery he was a leading contender in last year's European Super Touring Car series at the wheel of a CiBiEmme BMW 320i. He had backing from Beta Tools and Camozzi both companies which have been involved in Formula 1 before.
The Italian involvement in F1 at the moment is restricted to just two drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella at Benetton and Jarno Trulli at Jordan and an Italian in the team would probably help to find money. Morbidelli has enormous experience, having competed in a total of 67 Grands Prix, which will help the team to develop and he speaks both English and Italian.