After speculation all but confirming the deal, European Minardi Cosworth has formally announced that it has signed Hungarian driver Zsolt Baumgartner as the second of its two race drivers for the 2004 Formula One season.

The 22-year old F3000 graduate joins Italy's Gianmaria Bruni in the Faenza team's line-up, with both men competing for the first time in a full world championship campaign. Baumgartner contested two events in 2003 - the Hungarian and Italian GPs - when he was drafted in to replace the injured Ralph Firman at Jordan, but 2004 will mark the first time a Hungarian driver has raced full-time in the modern world championship. The funding for Baumgartner's seat is rumoured to have been provided in part by the Hungarian national government, which helped him to meet a deadline imposed by team boss Paul Stoddart, before he opened the seat up to other offers.

"For me, Christmas has definitely come early this year," Baumgartner smiled, "The two races I did this past season made me more determined than ever that I wanted to be in Formula One. I have now realised that dream, although I don't think the reality of it has quite sunk in yet.

"There are many people who have helped me to get to this point in my racing career, but I particularly want to thank Tomas Frank, for his unstinting efforts on my behalf, and Paul Stoddart, for giving me the opportunity to show what I can do in Formula One. I just want to start working with the European Minardi team as soon as possible, so that I can be well prepared for the beginning of the season. It is a huge challenge, but I am really looking forward to it."

By signing both Bruni and Baumgartner, Stoddart maintained his reputation for giving young drivers their break in Formula One, but it remains to be seen whether the Hungarian will be able to shake off the 'pay-driver' tag that has already been attached to him.

"We are very pleased that we have been able to finalise Zsolt's contract at this time," Stoddart maintained, "I believe he has considerable ability and, hopefully, the nurturing environment within Minardi, which has helped to launch the Formula One careers of so many talented young drivers in recent years, will also allow him to develop and hone his skills to the point where he firmly establishes his credentials at the very top level of motor racing."



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