Panis Joins Toyota, Salo and McNish Out in 2003

Frenchman Olivier Panis will drive for the Toyota Formula One team next season while Finn Mika Salo and Scot Allan McNish will end their partnership with the Japanese squad at the end of the year.

Panis Joins Toyota, Salo and McNish Out in 2003

Frenchman Olivier Panis will drive for the Toyota Formula One team next season while Finn Mika Salo and Scot Allan McNish will end their partnership with the Japanese squad at the end of the year.

"We would like to thank Mika and Allan for their hard-work during the last two years, which has been integral in building the team up to its current level," said Toyota boss Ove Andersson.

"This decision was not an easy one for the team and for Toyota Motor Corporation and in no way reflects on their clear racing ability. Both Mika and Allan will complete the remaining four Grands Prix of this season with Panasonic Toyota Racing with the same professionalism and dedication they have demonstrated so far."

Panis, 35, currently drives for Honda-powered British American Racing (BAR), who have signed Briton Jenson Button from Renault with Canadian former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve remaining under contract.

Toyota said they have come to a mutual agreement to cease their collaboration with Salo at the end of the season, despite the Finn having a year of his contract yet to run. McNish's contract, meanwhile, comes to an end at the end of 2002.

Toyota said they will announce who is to partner Panis in 2003 at a later date.

BAR had raised the possibility of Villeneuve moving to CART next season before returning to Formula One, a switch that would have allowed Panis to stay on as Button's teammate while enabling the team spend more on developing an underperforming car.

Villeneuve is one of the highest paid drivers in the sport but Panis, winner of one Grand Prix in his career, has been more than matching him this season. The deal ensures that France, once a major force in the sport, will have a Formula One driver again next season.

Panis, who has driven for Ligier and Prost as well as spending a year as McLaren's test driver, is highly experienced with a strong reputation for speed and technical feedback.

The decision comes as a cruel blow for McNish, who made his Formula One debut this year at the age of 32 after a decade of struggling to break into Grands Prix. The Scot had been tipped from the outset as the driver most likely to lose his seat by the end of the season but had harboured hopes of staying on.

Salo, 36 later this year, had an option to stay for another season and has scored both of Toyota's two World Championship points. Both drivers will struggle to find a drive for next season with most teams having finalised their line-ups.

Jaguar, Arrows and Minardi are the three teams with clear remaining vacancies while a question mark also hangs over Japan's Takuma Sato at Jordan.

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Toyota signs Panis for 2003

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