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Panis signs for British American Racing

FRENCHMAN Olivier Panis has signed a two-year deal to partner Jacques Villeneuve at British American Racing next season.

Panis, who has secured a return to Grand Prix racing after one year as McLaren's official test driver, will complete a strong line-up at the Brackley-based team after a disastrous debut season last year.

The deal was actually signed earlier this week but Craig Pollock was denied the chance to give Panis Ricardo Zonta's seat in Hungary by McLaren chief Ron Dennis.

Dennis made it clear to BAR that he wanted Panis to test the McLaren for the next six weeks but it is likely that the Frenchman will race for his new team in the last two races of the season in Japan and Malaysia, where no testing has been scheduled.

The signing of Panis is particularly good news for Honda, as they will have a man who has tested Mercedes engines for the past eight months at their disposal.

The chances of Zonta remaining in Formula One is now very slim, with a move to replace Panis as McLaren's test driver the most likely option with Dennis needing an experienced back-up driver for Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

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