Panis Calls for French Help for Young Drivers

Frenchman Olivier Panis celebrates the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Formula One this year but he admitted that unless sponsorship improves in his homeland he could be the last Grand Prix driver from his country for some time.

Panis Calls for French Help for Young Drivers

Frenchman Olivier Panis celebrates the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Formula One this year but he admitted that unless sponsorship improves in his homeland he could be the last Grand Prix driver from his country for some time.

France once developed a host of impressive drivers when the Elf scholarship scheme was in place but Panis is concerned that his country's involvement in the sport is dwindling.

"I think we have some very good young drivers like Franck Montagny but now we need big help from a big sponsor, a French company, and maybe the Federation too," said Panis. "I think now that Jean Alesi works with the FFSA to try to get some young drivers and to help improve them to go up and maybe to put someone in Formula One in the future, but I don't have the idea how to create that."

The French Grand Prix weekend marked the Formula One debut of French Formula 3000 driver Franck Montagny, who tested a Renault in the two-hour morning session on Friday. Panis, who was born in Lyon and now lives with his family in Varces in France, made his debut in Brazil in 1994 and has competed in seven Grands Prix in front of his home crowd.

He missed the 1997 race after breaking his legs in the Canadian Grand Prix in a career-altering crash and he also missed the 2000 French Grand Prix after his Prost team dropped him at the end of the 1999 season.

Panis spent the year 2000 working as a McLaren test driver and that season at Woking secured his return to Formula One with the BAR team the following year. He is now at Toyota after joining the Japanese manufacturer this year.

"I feel happy about this and I invite everyone to celebrate my first ten years in Formula One and maybe the second time for the next ten years," joked the amiable Panis. "I'm really happy to be honest but, really, I haven't proved anything I want to prove myself, which is why I continue to be really motivated and push really hard."

Panis had a disastrous race at the European Grand Prix last weekend after promising performances in practice, where he finished fastest in two of the three sessions, did not materialise into good race results.

"For us last week it was a really positive weekend from the performance point of view and everybody did a very good job but definitely we are a little bit frustrated, the team and myself, not to finish the race again," he said.

"Still, we need to take some positive things from this. At the end of the day we need to improve the situation and I'm sure one time something quite good will happen to us. I really hope so."

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