Minardi offers Baumgartner second seat

Hot on the heels of announcing Gianmaria Bruni as one of its race drivers for 2004, Minardi has now offered Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner the second seat. Baumgartner tested for Jordan in 2003 and stepped into a race seat in Hungary and Italy when Ralph Firman was out of action due to a crash in practice. Minardi is keen to finalize its 2004 line up before Christmas and team boss Paul Stoddart has been keeping an eye on Baumgartner.

Zsolt Baumgartner.
Photo by Jordan Grand Prix.
"I have watched Zsolt's racing career since his F3000 days," said Stoddart. "I was hugely impressed by the way in which he conducted himself when thrust into the spotlight at his home Grand Prix, in Hungary, this year, stepping in for the injured Ralph Firman at very short notice."

"I'm sure he will be a real asset to European Minardi, and as he is fluent in five languages, including Italian, I am sure he will fit like a glove when it comes to working with the team. We look forward to a great season with Zsolt in 2004."

22 year-old Baumgartner spent the last two years competing in F3000, and raced in F3 before that. He became the first Hungarian to compete in F1 -- at his home Grand Prix -- when he deputised for Firman. He qualified 19th but unfortunately his race was cut short when he suffered an engine failure on lap 35. He stood in for Firman again at the Italian GP and finished 11th.

Should Baumgartner not take up the offer, former Minardi drivers Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson are possible alternatives, along with several youngsters who tested at Vallelunga for the team recently. However, Minardi needs a driver that will bring in some finances so whoever has the biggest bank balance is the most likely bet.