Toyota Motorsport GmbH today announced that 2002 CART champion Cristiano da Matta has signed a two-year contract to become a Formula 1 race driver for the Panasonic Toyota Racing team from the 2003 season. The 29-year-old Brazilian will partner Frenchman Olivier Panis in 2003 and 2004.
Da Matta has driven Toyota-powered cars in the United States CART series since his CART debut in 1999, and his new Formula 1 deal sees him cement this successful relationship.
Chairman of Toyota Motorsport and Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation, Tsutomu Tomita said of the announcement: "I am very pleased that Cristiano is joining Panasonic Toyota Racing. He joined Toyota at the start of his career in the CART programme and has shown his tremendous dedication and efforts by helping us to develop together to win the championship with Newman/Haas Racing this season. His long-term partnership with Toyota and his natural driving talent will prove an essential asset to us as our Formula 1 programme enters an exciting new stage of development."
Cristiano da Matta commented: "I have accomplished one of my goals by winning the CART driver's championship title. I am very thankful to Carl Haas, Paul Newman and all of Newman/Haas Racing for the support, hard work and accomplishments that we have achieved together. Now I am ready for the next challenge. It is great to be able to join Panasonic Toyota Racing and more importantly to further develop my already successful partnership with Toyota. To be able to combine this with driving in Formula 1 - the top motorsport series in the world - is very special to me and I look forward to the exciting and demanding challenges that lie ahead. Though I enjoyed driving the Toyota Formula 1 car in May this year, I cannot wait to test the more-evolved TF102B car as a Panasonic Toyota Racing F1 driver later this month!"