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JUNE 14, 2001

Malaysia's unlicenced star

MALAYSIAN driver Alex Yoong has confirmed that he has come to a deal with European Minardi, following a meeting between team manager Rupert Manwaring and the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports, Dato Hishammuddin.

Original reports that he would take over from Tarso Marques from next month's British Grand Prix appear to be wide of the mark however, as Yoong has yet to be granted a 'Superlicence' to compete in Formula 1 by the sport's governing body, the FIA.

Despite the excitement of getting himself within an ace of a Formula 1 drive, Yoong himself remains realistic about the situation. "I'll probably start my first race next season but I hope it's sooner," he said. "If and when this drive comes about, it's not just Alex Yoong getting into a race car but a Malaysian getting into a F1 race car."

Such a move would be a great boost to the troubled Malaysian Grand Prix, which has suffered from dwindling spectator interest in the three years since it was inaugurated. As such it is thought that Yoong's passage to a Superlicence could be considerably eased, also there have been the recent precedents set by relatively inexperienced men such as Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen who with little more than a season or two of motor racing apiece have proven themselves in the Formula 1 arena.

Yoong, who is currently racing in Formula Nippon - the Japanese class on a par with Formula 3000 and Indy Lights - has considerably more experience than either Button or Raikkonen, and may well be seen in a Minardi before the end of this season, even if Britain is an unrealistic target given both the Superlicence hurdle and his Formula Nippon commitments.

Yoong summed up his own pride and that of Malaysians in general at the prospect of reaching the sport's highest echelon. After providing what is generally acknowledged to be the finest new facility in the sport in the Sepang circuit, a home-grown hero could well reignite national passion for the sport as Yoong gets closer to a Formula 1 drive: "Its always possible for Malaysians to do whatever they want," he said.