Sato to partner Button at BAR in 2004 07 Oct 2003
BAR confirmed on Tuesday that their Japanese test driver Takuma Sato will race for the team next season. Sato will partner Jenson Button at the Honda-powered squad, replacing Jacques Villeneuve.
The move, which was widely expected, was announced at a press conference in Tokyo ahead of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. It follows the news last weekend that Villeneuve's contract with BAR would not be renewed.
Sato, who has a long-running association with Honda, already has three years of Formula One experience. The former British Formula 3 champion originally joined BAR as a test driver in 2001. In 2002 he raced for Jordan, with a season-best result of fifth place in Japan, before taking up his current position as BAR's third driver for 2003.
"Of course, I am extremely happy to be confirmed as race driver for BAR next year," said a delighted Sato. "This is what I have been working hard all year to achieve and now that the decision is made I am looking forward to proving myself again in the team next year.
"A year out of racing has been tough for me, but I am confident that the work we have done this year in testing has been extremely valuable in helping me and the team become a strong partnership. I have built good relationships with many people in the team this year and feel very positive that together we can be successful next season. Now, of course, I can't wait to start the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix in March."
BAR boss David Richards welcomed Sato, but also paid tribute to the man he will replace. "The team very much appreciates Jacques Villeneuve's commitment over the past five years," he said. "However, as his contract with the team has come to an end, we believe this is the appropriate time to refresh the driver line-up.
"Takuma has done an excellent job for us in testing this year and has confirmed our long-held belief that he has enormous potential. Takuma is widely regarded as a very fast driver and he has had a meteoric rise to Formula One. When he drove for Jordan in 2002 he had just four years' prior racing experience and during that first season we saw flashes of brilliance, which he underlined with an impressive performance in the Japanese Grand Prix last year. After a further year of testing with BAR in 2003, we firmly believe that he deserves the opportunity to translate his natural speed into consistent race performances.
"With Jenson moving into his fifth season in Formula One and his second with BAR, he will provide the counter-balance of experience alongside the fresh enthusiasm of Takuma. A young and hungry driver line-up is essential for us to move closer to achieving our Championship ambitions."
Sato's announcement leaves just six seats unconfirmed for next season - one each at Jaguar and Sauber, and two at both Jordan and Minardi. Villeneuve currently has no confirmed drive for 2004.
See also: Focus - Frank Williams on Villeneuve