It's been a busy time for McLaren recently, as the team has confirmed both Vodafone as a title sponsor and current world champion Fernando Alonso as a driver for 2007, and now the Woking squad has announced this season's DTM champion Gary Paffett as a test driver for 2006.
Paffett first tested for McLaren in 2000 after winning the McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year award in 1999, and has since been in the cockpit on a regular basis. He joined the DTM as a Mercedes driver in 2003 and beat Audi's defending champion Mattias Ekstr?m to the title in 2005.
"I'm really excited about this opportunity and the challenges ahead," said Paffett. "This is the culmination of my continuous relationship with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz. For my efforts to be officially recognised by one of the most successful Formula One teams and reaching my goal of getting a regular Formula One seat is a fantastic feeling."
"I have really enjoyed my time in the DTM Championship and being able to also continue my relationship with Mercedes-Benz in this manner is the icing on the cake. I'm 100 per cent committed to my role as a Team McLaren Mercedes test driver and can't wait to start the 2006 testing programme."
Paffett will work alongside race drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as tester Pedro de la Rosa, so it seems likely that the team's other test driver, Alex Wurz, will be out of a seat. McLaren said it was still in discussions with Wurz in regard to his future.
"We are certain that Gary is the right choice as Team McLaren Mercedes test driver and are pleased to welcome him to the team," said CEO Martin Whitmarsh. "In order to achieve our objective of winning races and World Championship we have to employ the best drivers available and Gary definitely fits into this category."
Before joining the DTM Paffett competed in the German F3 championship in 2001 the won the title in 2002. He took four wins in his first season of DTM in 2003 with the HWA squad and with the same outfit was runner up to Ekstr?m in 2004. He claimed this year's title in the season finale at Hockenheim, again with HWA.
"Gary deserved his chance and he has seized it. In the last two years in the DTM Championship he proved his talent against tough competition," said Mercedes vice-president Norbert Haug. "His promotion to the Formula One team demonstrates that DTM is also a springboard for young talents who can make their way through touring cars to the top category of motor sport."