JANUARY 20, 1997

Minardi signs Trulli

GIANCARLO MINARDI will run Italian rising star Jarno Trulli alongside Ukyo Katayama this season. The announcement fills the final seat in the 1997 Formula 1 World Championship.

The decision was made after Minardi released promising Italian Giancarlo Fisichella from his contract so that he could join Jordan. Having signed Ukyo Katayama (and his Mild Seven millions) for one seat, Minardi felt that his team needed a young Italian and Trulli was the obvious choice.

The 22-year-old from Pescara is under long-term contract to Benetton Formula, but as Minardi is now effectively controlled by Benetton managing-director Flavio Briatore, this was easily overcome.

Trulli has only been racing for two seasons but was a highly-successful kartist, winning World, European and North American titles. He joined the KMS Formula 3 team in Germany in 1995 and finished fourth in the series (despite using an old car for most of the year) and won the title last year under the Benetton Junior Team banner. He had his first test for Benetton at Estoril in September last year.

It will be interesting to see whether Briatore has learned from the mistakes made with Jos Verstappen, the Dutchman being thrust into the limelight too early in his career to be able to cope with the pressure of Grand Prix racing.

The signing of Trulli is bad news for 20-year-old Brazilian Tarso Marques who had been hoping for the drive. "Tarso will stay with the team as a reserve driver," said Giancarlo Minardi, "and he will attend all races, ready to go in case of need."