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Panis goes to McLaren

OLIVIER PANIS turned down an offer from Williams last week and has joined the West McLaren Mercedes team as the team's third driver. The arrangement will be similar to the deal which was done by Panis's manager Keke Rosberg when his other protege Mika Hakkinen joined McLaren as third driver in 1993. Hakkinen had to sit out most of the season but then replaced Michael Andretti and has since gone on to win the World Championship twice for the team. Panis is a lot older than Hakkinen was at the time of that deal but he is now in a good position to become a McLaren driver if David Coulthard leaves at the end of the 2000 season.

The McLaren team said that it needs a third driver to meet the demands of its intensive testing schedule and with Nick Heidfeld having joined Prost Grand Prix and the team's second, Formula 3000 driver Mario Haberfeld, having moved on elsewhere there was no obvious candidate for the role. Panis has an enormous amount of experience in F1 with the Ligier team - which became Prost Grand Prix in 1997. He won the Monaco GP in 1996 in a Ligier-Mugen Honda but has not been comfortable with the French team since it was taken over by Alain Prost. It did not help that Olivier had to fight back from breaking both legs in an accident in Montreal in 1997. This affected his confidence in 1998 but this year he has become increasingly competitive and aggressive. Panis has been managed by Rosberg since his manager Peter Poelie-Zeewald died suddenly in the summer at the age of 52.

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