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F1 NEWS 

Olivier Panis Q&A

Olivier Panis is one of the key players as the F1 silly season gets into full swing, and his services are very much in demand. The Frenchman joined McLaren as test driver this year, after six years with Ligier and Prost. His solid performances away from the limelight of race weekends have not gone unnoticed by other teams, and his reputation is stronger than it has ever been, while Having Mika Hakkinen's management team of Keke Rosberg and Didier Coton behind him does his cause no harm at all. Adam Cooper spoke to Panis about his future options.

Are you any closer to getting a deal for next year?

"I'm sure I'll come back next year, but I've not really decided yet where. We're waiting for a little while, but I hope we can make an announcement quite early about the future."

You have more than one serious option?

"We have four big offers, and Keke, Didier and me are thinking about them. Obviously there's Arrows, Sauber, Benetton and BAR. I want to come back with a team which can have a good performance. Also I would like to fight with a good team mate."

And presumably you want a deal for two or three years?

"I hope so."

You also have the possibility to stay in the same role at McLaren how do you feel about that?

"I will be a little bit disappointed to leave McLaren, because I like this team so much. These people are unbelievably good to me. They gave me this opportunity and it's been really good to prove everything this year. This team is unbelievable inside, it's so beautiful. But the future is quite long for me, and I think Ron knows why I would like to come back to race I'm a racing driver. But I have a very, very good relationship with him, and all the people."

Were you disappointed when Ron announced that Mika and David would stay with the team indefinitely?

"No, not really. I knew before he announced it he spoke with me about it. I accept it, because Mika and David do a very good job, David is really strong. For me it's normal that both drivers stay. But now I've proved my performance compared with the two best drivers, and I hope some doors open for next year. Also I'm sure Ron knows my performance now."

When you talk to the other teams do you get the impression that they are a lot more interested than a year ago?

"Yes. Some were interested last year, but this year it's a lot more."

Do you think you stayed too long at Prost?

"I don't regret anything. I had some very good moments and some difficult moments but I regret nothing."

What's your exact role been this year?

"My role is to help David and Mika develop the car during the season, and also to give them more time off. I've been driving a lot. The programme of development for this year is so big, so it's been a big help for everybody.

What kind of satisfaction can you get when you're not racing?

"My satisfaction is I know the best car, I know the best team. I know my performance now. Just for this point I'm very happy. Also when Mika or David win, I also win a little. I'm sure for my future this is a really good work."

Has it been difficult to be on the sidelines on race weekends?

"It's so difficult, but seriously, I'm sure this choice is really good for my future, and I want to race F1 next year."

What have you learned this year?

"I know now what is the difference in the performance of the cars, and how the car can be developed during the season. The McLaren-Mercedes team develops everything, and optimises every part. They are so, so good. Everybody works very hard. Even if they win they continue to work all the time."

Is a British team different from a French team?

"It's different. Probably it's more quiet!"

Have there been any language problems?

"The language for me is no problem. Everybody made a really strong effort for me when I started. My English is getting better and better, so it's more easy for me to speak with everybody."

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