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MAY 4, 2001

Minardi in manufacturer talks

IT seems that people are impressed by more than just European Minardi's lavish new motor homes, formerly the property of the Sultan of Brunei, following the Spanish Grand Prix.

Team owner Paul Stoddart is desperately keen to end the Anglo-Italian team's reliance on three-year-old Ford engines as a power supply (albeit substantially modified and rebadged as European V10s).

In all likelihood this will mean that any new deal will be with one of the established motor manufacturers in Formula 1, as they seek to find ways to get around the heavy restrictions on testing mileage this year.

Stoddart is known to have had talks with Renault, which originally considered buying the team when the extent of its close season financial problems became clear. Indeed the current chassis, designated PS01 following the Australian entrepreneur's buy-out, was redesigned to accommodate the Renault-derived Mecachrome engine, but then switched back to the old Ford unit.

That chassis however is the team's strongest point on the track. Its designer, Gustav Brunner, has long been recognized as one of the most innovative men in his field and even the top teams are known to keep a close eye on his cars in search of inspiration. It also has one of the sport's rising stars in the form of Fernando Alonso, and a new engine deal could well be on the way.

"I can say we are talking to two engine manufacturers who are currently on the Grand Prix grid," Stoddart said in Barcelona.

One of those will doubtless be Renault, to whom Alonso is contracted for five years and Stoddart has on loan. Stoddart confirmed that the 19-year-old came to him with a clause in his contract that said he must be given an opportunity to shine with a front-line power plant, and as Renault's driver it would make sense that he should receive a French unit.

The second manufacturer is most likely to be Ford, whose Cosworth arm is the source of the current European V10. In the plans for the 54-acre Ford Racing Campus at Silverstone, which was to house Jaguar Racing and Cosworth Racing, there was provision for a specific Minardi design office and build shop adjacent to the Jaguar plants, and the one thing that the Detroit giant's Jaguar team lacks is a decent chassis in which to assess its engines.

Stoddart is continuing negotiations with all parties.