The announcement that Villeneuve and Panis will stay at BAR has ended speculation that either of the drivers will be moving to Jordan and McLaren.
The Lucky Strike BAR Honda team announced their 2002 driver line-up on Thursday, putting an end to speculations that both Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis might be on the verge of defecting.
Both Villeneuve and Panis will continue to drive for the team and 2002 will be the Canadian’s fourth consecutive season with BAR.
“I am looking forward to working with BAR in 2002,” Villeneuve said. “Next year we should improve significantly and I’m confident that we can achieve some good results. I have been with the team for three seasons – since the beginning – and during that time there has been a steady progression. I’m very happy that we will continue working together to make the team as competitive as possible.”
The announcement ends speculation that Villeneuve had considered moving to Jaguar Racing or even McLaren. Earlier in this season it was reported that the 1997 world champion had held preliminary talks with Jaguar racing boss Bobby Rahal about a future partnership with the British team, but no deal was made.
Meanwhile, Panis has more than justified his return to full-time racing during his first season with the team, the highlights being points-scoring performances in Brazil and Austria.
His performances have been so impressive that many Formula One insiders picked him as the obvious choice to replace Mika Hakkinen at McLaren, should the Finnish double world champion decide to hang up his gloves at the end of this season. However, with Hakkinen’s future still uncertain, Panis has reaffirmed his belief in the potential of BAR in 2002.
“Stability is a key factor in the future of the team and I believe that, together with Honda, we can go on to achieve great success,” Panis said.
“The fact that Jacques and I will continue to be team-mates is also very important. We’ve had nearly a year to get to know each other better and to understand how we both work.
“Jacques is a fierce competitor and I look forward to working with him again as we challenge the 2002 championships. Now that everything has been cleared up for next season, I intend to focus on the six races remaining this year and do my utmost to achieve the best possible result in 2001,” Panis said.