Honda website
Honda website

MARCH 19, 2004

The 2005 Toyota drivers

Late on Friday afternoon in Malaysia Olivier Panis and his manager Didier Coton were spotted walking quietly into the McLaren team area at Sepang for a meeting with Ron Dennis. This was obviously not a rendezvous of old pals but rather a talk about the future.

Until recently Coton was saying that there was no need to talk to anyone else as Toyota had not done any deal for 2005. The fact that now Panis and Coton have started talking elsewhere suggests that something has happened at Toyota to make Olivier want to start looking for a plan for next year. It may just be an insurance policy in case Toyota decides that it wants Schumacher and Cristiano da Matta in 2005 but if that was the case the meeting would probably have been held with rather more secrecy

Panis had done as good a job at Toyota as has his Toyota team mate - but da Matta is younger and has a lot of fans in Toyota after his success in CART. Olivier knows that his best chance for a rewarding job in 2005 is probably a test drive at McLaren. He is very highly-regarded by the Woking team, having spent the 2000 season working alongside Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

McLaren already has two race drivers for 2005 but there is no reason that Panis could not return to the team to take the place of either Alexander Wurz or Pedro de la Rosa. McLaren will certainly be keen on Olivier's technical feedback but at the same time may want to have room in the team for its protege Lewis Hamilton, if the youngster does well in Formula 3 this year.