Panis gets green light for McLaren

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The Independent Online

Olivier Panis has joined the McLaren Formula One team for next season as their third driver.

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 bid 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, 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."

Panis said: "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."

Panis, who made his Formula One debut in the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix for Ligier, as the team was known before Alain Prost took over two years ago, had claimed that his ex-team Prost were lacking a human element.

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' 1999 season was complicated after his friend and manager Peter Poeliejoe-Vewald died of cancer in May.

The driver felt his driving suffered as a result of this and it was only when Mika Hakkinen's manager Keke Rosberg took over his business dealings that his performances began to improve again.

He is now looking forward to the McLaren challenge but admitted to feeling sadness at leaving the team he has driven his entire F1 career for.

Panis said: "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. But next year there is a new stage for both me and the team."