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Panis signs for BAR

ALTHOUGH it is yet to be officially announced Olivier Panis has agreed a two-year deal to drive for British American Racing for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The move is a surprise in that it had been thought that the Frenchman would not be willing to accept the drive as he would be a clear number two in the team to Jacques Villeneuve. Panis appears to have concluded that the second BAR is better than all the other drives on offer and that he needs to get back into racing if he wishes to continue to have a long-term career in F1. Having Panis will certainly strengthen BAR as Olivier is a highly-experienced F1 driver and a former race winner. He also has up-to-date experience of the Mercedes-Benz engine, which will be very useful as Honda tries to develop its new V10.

BAR management has been trying very hard in recent days to get McLaren boss Ron Dennis to release Panis with immediate effect, in order for Olivier to take over immediately from Ricardo Zonta but that plan has, not unnaturally, been blocked by Dennis who wants to minimize the damage caused by Panis's departure. Dennis says that Panis will continue to test for McLaren until the end of the year although he admitted that there may be 2001 parts which will be tested by other drivers. Dennis said that the team has not begun to think about a possible replacement for Olivier but values experience highly.

Panis's decision to sign for BAR is a blow to the ambitions of several midfield drivers, notably Pedro Diniz, who is now left with very few choices other than to stay at Sauber, and Alexander Wurz. Wurz, however, might benefit from a job as McLaren test driver. He is well-known for his abilities as a test driver and his experience might be very helpful for McLaren.

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