Former Formula One team owner Giancarlo Minardi has spoken out against what he believes is a lack of opportunities for fellow Italians to make it into the top flight.

The 2008 grand prix season will start with just two Italians - Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli - in regular race seats, both men having been involved in Formula One since the 1997 season. Since then, the occasional other has come and gone, and Minardi laments the fact that little is being done to help those not otherwise involved on development programmes.

"Unfortunately, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella are almost at the end of their careers," he said, "[A lack of Italian replacements] is a problem that has lasted many years. The young drivers grow in the various development categories, but then fail to make the final jump to F1.

"[Giorgio] Pantano and [Tonio] Liuzzi broke into Formula One, but then failed to stay [as race drivers]. Davide Rigon is another striking example, a driver who has demonstrated good talent by winning the various categories in which he has raced, but whose budget difficulties are limiting his career."

Minardi, of course, was well known for giving drivers a break, despite being one of the least well funded teams in the paddock, but, with a roster that includes the like of Fisichella, Mark Webber and one Fernando Alonso, the veteran is well qualified to comment on the current dearth of Italians.

"The fundamental problem, in my opinion, is that Team Ferrari does not have a youth programme, unlike any other team, such as Honda, Red Bull and Renault," he reflected, "These days, it is common for some of these teams have to make agreements with feeder series, offering a few days of testing at the wheel of their car as a prize for the champion. This policy has allowed us to bring young drivers into F1 and keep a high interest in this sport.

"Unfortunately, Ferrari paralyses the growth of young drivers by attracting the interest of companies to its championship, but the team is changing direction and, therefore, I hope that it will start to give opportunities for young talent to take part in a few days of testing."

Italians expecting to be at the fore in the main F1 feeder series, GP2, include not only comparative veteran Pantano, but also Davide Valsecchi, Honda test driver Luca Filippi and reigning national F3 champion Paolo Nocera, although only Filippi appears to have attracted the sort of support necessary to give him a leg up. Pantano's star has waned to the point where he has become a regular in GP2, while Liuzzi is no longer a part of the Red Bull set-up and will carry out reserve duties for Force India, behind Fisichella, this season.

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