Motor Racing: Panis has major test role after move to McLaren

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The Independent Online
OLIVIER PANIS has joined the McLaren Formula One team for next season as their third driver. The 33-year-old Frenchman gained just two world championship points last season for the Prost team but will become an integral part of McLaren's thrust for the 2000 title.

"We have decided that we require a third driver in the Formula One programme to meet the demands of our intensive test schedule," said Martin Whitmarsh, the managing director of McLaren International.

"Olivier has already impressed us in the car and with his desire to take over this role and we are confident that his contribution will be significant."

"Joining McLaren is an exciting challenge for me and I am looking forward to helping develop the team's new Formula One car for the 2000 season," said Panis, who made his Formula One debut in the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix for Ligier - the name of the team before Alain Prost took over two years ago.

When asked what his final message to Prost would be, Panis said: "In a world like Formula One, where technology is so important, Alain needs to remember that there is still a human element."

Panis's 1999 season was complicated after his friend and manager, Peter Poeliejoe-Vewald, died of cancer in May. The driver felt his campaign suffered as a result and it was only when Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen's manager, took over the Frenchman's business dealings that his performances began to pick up.

He is now looking forward to the McLaren challenge but admitted to feeling some sorrow at leaving the team he has driven for during his entire F1 career. "I felt a certain sadness as I have been with the team, first Ligier and then Prost, for six years, so I have a lot of friends there," Panis said.

"But next year there is a new stage for both me and the team. This is an exciting challenge and I am looking forward to helping develop the team's new Formula One car for the 2000 season."