French veteran to switch to Toyota testing for 2005
Olivier Panis will become Toyotas third driver for 2005 after deciding to retire from competitive Formula One racing at the end of the season. Panis has signed a two-year deal with the team, to include testing, promotional and advisory roles.
Panis's decision to retire from racing was made over the summer, but Toyota were keen to hold on to the 38-year-olds talent. He will now take on testing duties in 2005 and 2006, as well as corporate promotional activities for the team. Additionally, Panis will become an advisor to Toyota's young drivers programme, the Toyota Drivers' Academy.
"My decision to retire as an F1 race driver has come after some months of deep thought, but I am proud that Panasonic Toyota Racing has decided to retain my services, said Panis.
I have a strong relationship with everyone at Toyota and I am pleased to be able to continue my work as a representative of the team both on and off the track. I am looking forward to helping the team move further up the grid and I am confident that together we will reap the rewards of our combined efforts over the last two years."
In his role as third driver, Panis will substitute if either Toyota race driver is unable to take part in a Grand Prix weekend. However, the 11-year veteran of 155 Formula One races is not eligible to run the third car during Friday practice sessions, according to current FIA regulations, which stipulate that the driver of the third car must not have participated in more than six grands prix in the last two years.
Of Toyotas new arrangement with Panis, team principal Tsutomu Tomita said: "We are very pleased that Olivier has accepted our offer to stay with Panasonic Toyota Racing for an additional two years. His input to our team has been invaluable and we see Olivier's future role with the team as crucial to our further development. His excellent technical feedback will be highly beneficial in a testing role. He will also take part in PR and marketing activities for the team. Together, I am sure that we can celebrate success in the coming years."
Panis made his Formula One debut with Ligier in 1994 and won the Monaco Grand Prix with them in 1996. He went on to race for Prost before taking on a testing role with McLaren for 2000. He returned to racing with BAR the following year before switching to Toyota for the 2003 season.
Toyota have signed Ralf Schumacher as one race driver for 2005, but have not yet finalised their complete line-up. The team said they will make an announcement once all details are concluded.