SEPTEMBER 27, 1999
...so what happens to Panis
THE announcement that Ricardo Zonta is to be retained by British American Racing comes as a blow to Olivier Panis as the Frenchman had been hoping that British American racing might decide to hire him as Jacques Villeneuve's team-mate. It was a long shot but at the moment Panis's choices are rather limited. There has been talk of a deal with the Arrows team but we understand that Tom Walkinshaw - while happy to run Olivier - would still need money and is asking for around $10m. The only way that Panis could afford such a deal would be if Renault or Elf agreed to fund him. This is not impossible given Walkinshaw's long term plans to link up with Renault in 2001 to run a Nissan V10 engine. That deal may still depend on good performances in 2000 and so Walkinshaw still needs to raise a good budget next year. The talks which had been going on with Phillips have reached a conclusion as the Dutch electronics company has decided not to invest in F1 and is supporting yacht racing instead and also funding the construction of a major stadium complex in Atlanta, Georgia, a project which is believed to be costing around $100m.
At the Nurburgring Walkinshaw confirmed that the team has now split with Prince Malik and that a new marketing structure will soon be announced. Walkinshaw said that when it became clear that Malik was not going to raise any money for next year the team created a parallel marketing program which is well-advanced on its negotiations to find sponsors. This structure will be revealed shortly.
Panis's other hopes for employment would seem to rest with a Patrick Racing drive in CART - although it is possible that this drive will go to Bryan Herta who is out of work following Bobby Rahal's decision to sign up Sweden's Kenny Brack. We have also heard a suggestion that Panis may do a deal to become McLaren's third driver next year as Nick Heidfeld is moving to Prost and Mario Haberfeld has not shown any remarkable speed in Formula 3000 and may not remain with McLaren next year.