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Toyota bid farewell to testers Panis and Zonta 15 Dec 2006

(L to R): Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota Test Driver with Ricardo Zonta (BRA) Toyota Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, 12 May 2006

The Toyota team paid tribute to the work of departing test drivers Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta in Jerez on Thursday. Panis announced in September his plans to retire from Formula One racing at the end of the year, while Zonta will join Renault to test for the French team in 2007.

Panis joined race driver Jarno Trulli on track on Thursday for the final day of Toyota’s 2006 test programme. Despite suffering from a cold, the Frenchman completed 27 laps for the team before being replaced by Kohei Hirate in the afternoon. After testing, the team handed Panis a piece of the Jerez circuit's asphalt, as a permanent reminder of his many testing laps at the track and a signed rear wind end plate.

"It was my last day in Formula One and I am sure I will miss it but eventually you have to make this decision,” explained Panis. “I have enjoyed my time in Formula One, driving these cars, and I have enjoyed my time with Toyota. The team has always been good to me and it has been a great pleasure to work with them. But now is the right time for a change. Even though this was my last time in a Formula One car, it was still a normal day of testing and in the time I had in the car, we worked on learning about the new tyres for next season."

Panis made his Formula One debut with Ligier back in 1994, going on to take his first - and only - Grand Prix win in 1996 in Monaco. He has been with Toyota for four years as both a race and test driver, last racing for the team in 2004. After spending the past two seasons testing, the 40-year-old now hopes to return to a racing role elsewhere.

Zonta, meanwhile, has been a test driver with Toyota since 2003. To mark his departure, the team presented him with a cake, a car part and a Toyota flag. The 30 year-old will join Renault in 2007 to test alongside up-and-coming GP2 star and fellow Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr.