Villeneuve commits to BAR

Jacques Villeneuve has committed himself to the BAR Formula 1 team for another three years, turning down a lucrative offer from Renault to join its newly-acquired Benetton squad

Villeneuve commits to BAR

After enduring two relatively fruitless seasons with BAR, Villeneuve was strongly tipped to switch to Benetton for 2001, rekindling a relationship with Renault that brought him the 1997 world title at Williams. But the Canadian's decision to stay loyal to the team formed around him two years ago is set to be the catalyst for a swift conclusion to the mid-grid 'silly season'.

Benetton is now likely to retain Giancarlo Fisichella, who had been linked to Jaguar. The Italian is likely to be partnered by rookie Jenson Button, whose place at Williams-BMW will be taken by Champ Car sensation Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ominously for Villeneuve's current team-mate Ricardo Zonta, BAR did not take the opportunity of confirming its second driver in its statement today (Monday). Although the Brazilian showed strongly in the Austrian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, his services are unlikely to be retained for a third season, with McLaren test driver Olivier Panis a clear favourite for the drive.

Panis's testing skills will be a major asset to the Brackley-based team, and with Honda stepping up its development work on chassis and suspension - the so-called 'Athena' project - as well as accelerating its engine programme with a two-pronged attack that incorporates the Jordan team in 2001, Villeneuve clearly believes BAR can make the leap and challenge for race wins.

"It was a difficult decision," said Villeneuve, speaking to the BBC, "but I am happy to stay with the team after two years' hard work."

BAR boss and Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock said: "We are absolutely delighted with Jacques decision and the fact he has registered a significant vote of confidence in British American Racing. His commitment to stay indicates that he shares our belief that this is an organisation with which he can win races, and ultimately the world championship, in the future."

Villeneuve goes into this weekend's German Grand Prix having finished a 'best of the non-McLaren/Ferrari rest' fourth in the last two races.

"It is rewarding to see progress," he said. "I would like to continue with the team and to continue with that progress."

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