FEBRUARY 28, 2001

European Minardi launches in Melbourne

PAUL STODDART, the new owner of Minardi, used the state parliament building in his home town of Melbourne to launch the Minardi-European PS01 chassis. As promised the car was decked out in black and white livery but without any major sponsorship although the team has a series of small sponsorship deals from the Sebring exhaust company and an Australian wine company called The Fauth Estate. Stoddart's European Aviation also appears prominently.

The car, which will be driven by Fernando Alonso and Tarso Marques has been designed by Gustav Brunner and his team of engineers at Faenza. Brunner says the uncertainty over the future of the team meant that the 2001 car was actually designed four times: twice for Supertec engines and twice for the Ford-based unit it is now using.

The Melbourne connection has caused considerable interest in the team in Australia and present at the launch were Victorian state premier Steve Bracks and the chairman of the Melbourne major events company Ron Walker and while there was much optimism that the cars will do well this year, the team is keen to dampen down the enthusiasm as the cars has barely run at all.

"The new cars were the last to be finished," said Stoddart, "but I am happy to report that when they got down here they were the very first to arrive in the garages. So we won the race to get here!"

The team is looking to find more sponsorship in the weeks ahead but the team's sporting director Rupert Manwaring says that it is going to be tough.

"We hope that there is a major sponsor out there that has some money left over in its 2001 budgets," he said. "We would be a perfect deal for someone like that but we will have to wait and see what happens. There hasn't really been time to do anything."

Stoddart only took over the team at the end of January and almost all of the time since then has spent making sure that the cars would be in Melbourne.

Stoddart, who ran local hero Mark Webber in Formula 3000 last year, got the Australian media excited by suggesting that it will not be long before Webber gets a break in F1. At the moment Webber is acting as the Benetton test driver.