Toyota announced on August 5th that third driver Ricardo Zonta will replace Cristiano da Matta from the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards. Test driver Ryan Briscoe will take over Zonta's role as third driver in the Friday practices at race weekends.
Toyota announced on August 5th that third driver Ricardo Zonta will replace Cristiano da Matta from the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards. Test driver Ryan Briscoe will take over Zonta's role as third driver in the Friday practices at race weekends. Zonta will be teammate to Olivier Panis, who will race for Toyota for the rest of the season.
Zonta has impressed with his performances in the Friday sessions and Toyota wants to give him a chance to show what he can do in competition. The Brazilian raced for BAR in 1999 and 2000 and was test driver for Jordan in 2001. He has been with Toyota as test driver since 2003.
"We revised our original plans after we reviewed the results of the last three Grands Prix," said Toyota team principal Tsutomu Tomita in a statement. "Ricardo Zonta consistently performed very well, as indeed he also did in the first half of the 2004 season."
Ralf Schumacher is already signed to Toyota for 2005 and Jarno Trulli has been linked with the second race seat. However, if Zonta can prove his worth, he's in with a chance. "We believe it is fair to offer Ricardo the chance to show his potential in full race conditions, before we enter into the final step of our driver evaluation for the 2005 season," explained Tomita.
Panis' results so far in 2004 saved his seat. "We decided to retain Olivier Panis as a race driver for the rest of this season, based on the fact that he is the driver who has secured the team's best race result of the year so far (5th in Indianapolis) and has collected the higher number of championship points (5)."
Da Matta, who has reportedly fallen out with Toyota over its refusal to negotiate terms for 2005, will not be released from his contract until the end of the year. "Cristiano da Matta will remain a Panasonic Toyota Racing driver until the end of 2004 and could still be called upon to undertake activities accordingly." Tomita concluded.
As well as Trulli, David Coulthard has also been linked with Toyota for next year, but the decision to drop da Matta in favour of Zonta could be bad news for other hopefuls.