Formula Three frontrunner Gianmaria Bruni could be the next driver to miss out F3000 on his way to grands prix, if rumours in the Italian press are to be believed.

According to AutoMoto magazine, the British series frontrunner is in line for the second Minardi seat should he be able to source funding vital to the future of the team.

Bruni has spent two seasons in the British F3 championship, having taken titles in FRenault before that, including pipping the highly-rated Antonio Pizzonia the 1999 Eurocup crown. Two years with the Fortec team in F3 yielded a win at Donington in 2001, before Bruni opted to miss the annual excursions to Macau and Korea in favour of F3000 testing. Such has been his pace in the F1 support category that the Italian has become a hotter property than expected, and his performances have now caught the eye of Giancarlo Minardi.

As is becoming ever more common in F1, however, Bruni's chances of landing a surprise grand prix ride will depend largely on how much sponsorship he can take to the Faenza minnow. He finds himself in competition with Australian Mark Webber - a favourite of team boss Paul Stoddart - as well as a possible challenge from either Heinz-Harald Frentzen or Jos Verstappen, both of whom Stoddart has admitted to wanting in his team should they become available. Alex Yoong is almost certainly going to take the other seat for 2002.

Twenty-year old 'Gimmi' has some sponsorship ties - having carried allegiance to Opodo, Beenz and television station ESPN in the past - but it may only be enough to guarantee him a testing role should a more experienced driver be open to Stoddart.

Should he make the grade, the Italian would follow Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen in missing out on a season in F3000 before debuting in F1.

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