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Sato to race in Japan as Villeneuve pulls out 09 Oct 2003

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Brazilian Grand Prix, Preparations, Interlagos, Brazil, 3 April 2003

Jacques Villeneuve has decided not to compete in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. His seat for the race will be taken by his 2004 replacement at BAR, Takuma Sato.

It was revealed earlier this week that Sato, currently BAR's third driver, would partner Jenson Button at the team next season and that Villeneuve's contract had not been renewed.

On Thursday team boss David Richards told reporters that he had received a telephone call from Craig Pollock, Villeneuve's manager, informing him that the Canadian did not wish to participate at Suzuka.

"I've agreed to this," said Richards of Villeneuve's request. "If somebody doesn't want to drive, they don't want to drive and so Takuma will be driving on Sunday.

"The end of our season has been rather dramatic, and I certainly was not expecting this, but you have to respect a driver's decision if he feels he cannot give his best when facing these circumstances."

Pollock explained Villeneuve's decision, saying: "Jacques is extremely disappointed not to be staying with the team next year, and he simply felt that his heart would not be in it for the coming weekend. As a result he asked that he be allowed to stand down. We are grateful to David Richards, and the team, for releasing him early from his contract."

Sato's last Grand Prix appearance was also in Japan, a year ago. He finished an emotional fifth in his final race for Jordan, scoring his maiden world championship points in the process. He admitted he was surprised by his early race debut for BAR.

"This was not what I was expecting this weekend, and I cannot express how excited I am to be making my debut for BAR in front of my home crowd," said Sato. "It is going to be pretty crazy, but I am confident that I can do a good job."

Villeneuve's future is now unclear. The 1997 world champion has no confirmed drive for next season and has yet to announce any plans for 2004.

See also: Sato to partner Button at BAR in 2004
See also: Focus - Frank Williams on Villeneuve