Fernando Alonso's 2001 team-mate could be former Minardi driver Gianni Morbidelli, if Italian rumours are to be believed.

New Minardi boss PAul Stoddart has always maintained that his first line-up would consist of a young charger and an older head, but many assumed that he would plump for Pedro de la Rosa or Johnny Herbert to partner Alonso in his debut season. Now, however, with the Spanaird opting to test with Prost in the hope of landing a race ride with the Ferrari-powered team next season - or even this, if speculation is true - and herbert appearing to be out of teh frame, F1 refugee Morbidelli has emerged as the new favourite.

Not involved in the top flight since injuring himself in a Suzuka practice crash while aprtnering Herbert at Sauber in 1997, Morbidelli has since found refuge in the Italian and European touring car series, where he has proven himself to be a regualr frontrunner. Now, though, his experience and technical ability may be the key to a belated return, albeit at the back of the grid in a cash-strapped outfit.

The Italian, whose initial spell with Minardi was punctuated by a one-off outing with Ferrari in Adelaide, made 67 GP starts between his 1991 debut and that unfortunate Sauber outing in 1997 but, more often than not, was left to drive uncompetitive machinery, and has just 8.5 points to his name.