Olivier Panis makes his return to the Panasonic Toyota Racing race team as third 'Friday' driver in his home Grand Prix at Magny Cours, round 9 of the 2005 Formula 1 World Championship.
Panis, 38, is held in high regard, having contested 33 races for Toyota before electing to concentrate on a new two-year testing commitment to the team. In appreciation of his contribution, Panasonic Toyota Racing team principal Tsutomu Tomita presented Olivier with one of the 2004 TF104 race chassis used by the Frenchman!
President of Panasonic Toyota Racing, John Howett explained: "Olivier was not eligible to drive the third car with the regulations as they were at the start of the 2005 season. But now that this rule has been relaxed, we felt it would be a good opportunity to ask him to drive the third car at his home race. Olivier's reputation as a quick, technically-minded driver is well documented and Ricardo Zonta has had a busy race and test schedule, so this decision allows him to enjoy a weekend off before returning at Silverstone."
Proving the truth of Howett's words, Zonta flew straight back from the Canadian Grand Prix and drove 292 testing laps, almost 1300kms, at Jerez in Spain!
"I am more than happy for Olivier to drive on Friday at his home race," Zonta said. "The start of the Silverstone meeting is only five days after France and I will be looking forward to resuming Friday duties at the British Grand Prix."
Olivier Panis added: "I'm really looking forward to returning to the cockpit at Magny-Cours. I first raced at the circuit in 1994 so I have over a decade of knowledge of the track. Now I hope to use that experience to help Toyota at the French Grand Prix. I think it would be a big shame to go through the entire Magny-Cours race weekend without any French drivers. As well as assisting the team, I hope to give something back to the spectators and to the French TV and press who supported me so well throughout my F1 career. I hope to enjoy myself as well!"
In 158 F1 starts the highlight of Panis's career was winning the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. He finished second in the German Grand Prix of 1994, the Australian Grand Prix of 1995 and the Spanish Grand Prix of 1997 and was also on the podium in the 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout his career was bad luck in his home race – in nine French Grand Prix starts he did not score a point until he finished eighth in the 2003 race for Panasonic Toyota Racing!
"Perhaps it's just as well that I won't be driving on race day this time!" Olivier joked. "Seriously though, Magny Cours is a technical track and conditions can change throughout the day more than at practically any other circuit. That is an area where my experience will be of real benefit and I am looking forward to doing as strong a job as possible for the team."