Stoddart: Bruni Close to Minardi Deal

Minardi are close to signing Italian Gianmaria Bruni as one of their 2004 drivers and could confirm him next month, Formula One team boss Paul Stoddart said today.

Stoddart: Bruni Close to Minardi Deal

Minardi are close to signing Italian Gianmaria Bruni as one of their 2004 drivers and could confirm him next month, Formula One team boss Paul Stoddart said today.

"We expect to announce one driver pretty imminently, hopefully in November," he told Reuters. "We are closest to doing a deal with Bruni."

Bruni, 22, was appointed tester for the Anglo-Italian team last July, when Stoddart hailed him as "a very talented driver who is ready to make the final step to Formula One."

If the deal goes through, the Roman would become Italy's third Formula One driver on the 2004 grid alongside Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella and Renault's Jarno Trulli - who both made their debuts with Minardi.

Minardi had experienced Dutchman Jos Verstappen and Denmark's Nicolas Kiesa as drivers this year and Stoddart said both were still in the frame although Verstappen is hoping to move to Jaguar or Jordan.

Sponsorship will play an important part in deciding the line-up however, with Minardi short of cash and needing drivers to bring backing to the only team that failed to score a point in 2003.

Minardi started the season with Justin Wilson, before the British rookie moved to Ford-owned Jaguar for the final five races as a replacement for Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia.

Wilson is still waiting to hear whether he has done enough to secure the Jaguar drive alongside Australian Mark Webber, another former Minardi man. Stoddart said he hoped Jaguar, who have a list of candidates and expect to make a decision by the end of November, would keep Wilson on.

"My opinion has not changed since I said a driver combination of Webber and Wilson would be one of the most powerful and an asset to any team," he said. "I sincerely hope Jaguar can keep those two together."

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