Olivier Panis' story seemed very much one of unfulfilled
promise, after a crash in 1997 saw him break both his legs and come back a shadow of his
former self. Despite some stunning drives in the latter half of the 1999 season he was
mainly present among the backmarkers during a Formula1 career spent solely with Prost
(formerly Ligier). However, Prost's decision to let him go at the end of 1999 proved to be
the making of Panis.
McLaren were quick to recognise the benefits of having a driver of his experience, and
snapped him up as a test driver for the 2000 season, where he flourished until his
decision to join BAR for 2001. McLaren team boss, Ron Dennis, admitted to his
disappointment at losing the Frenchman this year and no doubt Panis will be forever
grateful that he did not take up Frank Williams offer for a one year contract in what
eventually became Jenson Button's seat.
The amiable Frenchman is one of the best-liked figures in the paddock and his former
mechanics at Prost still regard him with affection. He has already settled well at BAR,
and team boss, Craig Pollock, is amused at how well he has integrated himself into the
Panis has performed well in the new car, the 003, which so far suits him better than the
team's star driver, Jacques Villeneuve. Despite possessing a healthy respect for the
French Canadian, Panis is not scared of him and is so determined to prove his worth on the
race track he is unlikely to let Villeneuve stand in his way.