FEBRUARY 21, 2000

Mazzacane and Alonso join Gene at Minardi

THE Telefonica Minardi Fondmetal team unveiled its 2000 package last week at the dramatic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

THE Telefonica Minardi Fondmetal team unveiled its 2000 package last week at the dramatic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The Minardi-Fondmetal M02 features a bright new yellow color scheme with considerably more Telefonica badging than in 1999 although the team insists that the sale of the operation to the Spanish telecommunications company is not yet definite. The team has retained a few of its traditional sponsors but has added new deals with PSN, the PanamericanÊSportsÊNetwork, a digital TV service which serves South America. In addition there is backing from Spanish clothing company Lois, which supported the team in the late 1980s.

The Spanish influence in the team is increased with the signing of Argentina's Gastone Mazzacane as the second driver to Marc Gene. The 24-year-old from Buenos Aires started racing in 1992 and finished second in the South American FormulaÊ3ÊChampionship in 1993 before moving to Europe to race in the Italian Formula 2000 series in 1994. He graduated to Italian Formula 3 in 1995 and then made his way into Formula 3000 without any notable results, despite the fact that he drove for the Astromega team. Last year he became Minardi's test driver.

There will be further Spanish involvement thanks to the hiring of 18-year-old Fernando Alonso, who raced last year in Spain's Formula Nissan series before testing for Minardi in December at Jerez. Alonso is expected to drive for Astromega in Formula 3000 this year.

The team's insistence that it has not done a deal with Telefonica is strange because the Spanish company is known to have taken up an option to buy the operation last autumn when other potential buyers began gathering around Minardi. If the deal is not completed, Minardi will become a target again. It is also strange given that Benetton's Operations Director JoanÊVilladelprat left the Enstone team with the intention of going to work for the new Spanish team. According to Minardi boss Gabriele Rumi if the deal goes ahead the team will move to Spain but no move will happen for at least a year.

Even team founder Giancarlo Minardi is now admitting that it is impossible to continue with the little team from Faenza to carry on operating as it was.Ê"We have to link up with Telefonica or someone else," Minardi said. "That is the only way that we can guarantee a secure future for the team."

It may be that Rumi and Minardi are hoping to find an Italian company to buy the team but will do a deal with Telefonica if all else fails. The Spanish company does not seem to be in a hurry to conclude the deal - even if it has taken up an option - and this arrangement may suit both parties for a while.