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Formula One

Monday, December 22
Updated: December 23, 10:29 PM ET
Hungarian government to back driver

Zsolt Baumgartner
BUDAPEST -- Hungarian driver Zsolt Baumgartner signed a contract for the 2004 Formula One season with Minardi after his country's government agreed to pay $4 million to back him, his manager said on Monday.

"I have permission from Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart to announce that the contract will be signed on Tuesday," the national news agency quoted Baumgartner's manager Tamas Frank as saying before Tuesday's signing.

The announcement came after sports minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said the government would contribute $4 million toward the young Hungarian's sponsorship money.

Minardi's other driver is Italian rookie Gianmaria Bruni.

The Italian team said last week that it had offered him a deal and it hoped to tie up a contract shortly.

Baumgartner, 22, the first Hungarian driver in Formula One, made his debut at his home track on August 24, standing in for injured Jordan driver Ralph Firman. He abandoned the race due to a mechanical failure on lap 35.

Stoddart said last week: "His performance last year, when with very little notice he replaced Firman, impressed me greatly.

"We're all impatient to start the 2004 season with Zsolt."

At the next race, the Italian Grand Prix, he finished 11th after starting from 18th on the grid.

"We are very pleased that we have been able to finalist Zsolt's contract at this time," said Stoddart. "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."

Minardi announced the signing on Tuesday.

"For me, Christmas has definitely come early this year," said Baumgartner. "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 realized that dream, although I don't think the reality of it has quite sunk in yet."

Drivers' personal sponsorship is commonplace in Formula One with several teams in the championship struggling for adequate financing without it.

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