FEBRUARY 12, 1996

Inoue joins Minardi

THE Minardi team has confirmed that it has signed a deal with Japanese driver Takachiho Inoue for the 1996 season. The team will launch its M196 at Estoril on Wednesday.

Inoue will partner Portugal's Pedro Lamy, while Argentine driver Esteban Tuero will be the team's test driver.

There is no Italian driver in the squad - the first time this has ever happened - even in Minardi's Formula 2 days. In 1988 the team ran Spaniards Adrian Campos and Luis Perez Sala, but Pierluigi Martini assured the Italian involvement as test driver - and, in fact, replaced Campos in the mid-season.

The implication is that Minardi is treating this season as a year in which to spend as little as possible while preparing a better package for 1997 and beyond. The recent tests involving Italian youngsters such as Danilo Rossi, Thomas Biagi and GiancarloƊFisichella indicate that Minardi's longer-term plans will involve more Italians.

The announcement of Inoue means that Fisichella and Luca Badoer are in trouble finding an F1 drive. Fisichella is expected to continue his career in touring cars with Alfa Romeo, while Badoer's only hope of F1 is with the Forti team.