Olivier Panis has today announced that he is to retire as a Formula 1 race driver after the 2004 season finale in Brazil. However, Olivier has signed a new two-year deal with Panasonic Toyota Racing, which will see the 38-year-old Frenchman become the team's third driver from next season.
Olivier's decision to retire from racing was made over the summer period, but Toyota was keen to hold on to his talent. Consequently, both parties have come to a mutual agreement, whereby Olivier will conduct valuable testing duties in 2005 and 2006, as well as corporate promotional activities for the team. Additionally, Olivier will adopt an advisory role for Toyota's young drivers programme, the Toyota Drivers' Academy.
In his role as Third Driver, Olivier will substitute if either Toyota race driver is unable to take part in a GP weekend. The 11-year veteran of 155 F1 races is not eligible to run the third car during Friday practice sessions, according to current FIA regulations, which stipulate that the driver of the third car must not have participated in more than six grands prix in the last two years.
Team Principal of Panasonic Toyota Racing, Tsutomu Tomita said: "We are very pleased that Olivier has accepted our offer to stay with Panasonic Toyota Racing for an additional two years. His input to our team has been invaluable and we see Olivier's future role with the team as crucial to our further development. His excellent technical feedback will be highly beneficial in a testing role. He will also take part in PR and marketing activities for the team. With over 150 GPs of experience as a race driver, he will also act as our reserve driver in case either of our race drivers cannot participate in a GP weekend. Together, I am sure that we can celebrate success in the coming years."
Olivier Panis said: "My decision to retire as an F1 race driver has come after some months of deep thought, but I am proud that Panasonic Toyota Racing has decided to retain my services. I have a strong relationship with everyone at Toyota and I am pleased to be able to continue my work as a representative of the team both on and off the track. I am looking forward to helping the team move further up the grid and I am confident that together we will reap the rewards of our combined efforts over the last two years."
Contrary to reports, Panasonic Toyota Racing has not yet finalised its complete driver line-up for 2005, but the team will make an announcement once all details are concluded.