Kiesa in Minardi frame

Nicolas Kiesa has emerged as a strong favourite to land the second seat at Minardi alongside Christijan Albers this season, autosport.com can reveal, with sources claiming that a deal could be agreed by the start of next month

Kiesa in Minardi frame

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart has made no secret of the fact that he is chasing a driver with sponsorship funds behind him and Kiesa's name has been talked about for several weeks, after it emerged that he had secured some backing. Kiesa is no stranger to Minardi, having taken part in the final few races of 2003 for the team as a replacement for Justin Wilson.

Speculation about the Kiesa deal has been further fuelled by the fact that other potential front-runner for the seat, Zsolt Baumgartner, has confirmed that he is now looking elsewhere for a drive in 2005 - and Kiesa made a brief appearance at Minardi's Misano test this week.

Although he only completed five laps in the weather hit test, the very fact that Kiesa was given a run suggests that talks between the Dane and Minardi are at an advanced enough stage to get him back in to the cockpit.

Speaking after his brief run, Kiesa said: "It was great to drive a Formula 1 car again. All the feedback from the controls was clear and consistent, and it didn't feel as though it had been a year since I last drove one of these cars. Everything came back to me quickly.

"We did three timed laps and the track conditions were not the best this morning. The surface was still wet in a number of spots but even so the car was well-balanced and easy to drive."

Minardi is scheduled to test again at Misano at the beginning of February, where Kiesa could be brought back to the cockpit if his talks with the team are successful.

Baumgartner had been expected to maintain his relationship with Minardi this season but, after changing his management over the winter to former Reynard front man Rick Gorne, the Hungarian is now looking at a possible test drive deal with teams further up the grid.

A statement issued by his management said: "Gorne is adamant that Zsolt has a realistic chance in securing a Jordan seat or to become a test driver at one of three undisclosed mid-grid teams, with all the options being currently under negotiation."

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