Lucky Strike B·A·R Honda announced today that Takuma Sato will complete the 2004 driver line-up, alongside Jenson Button who enters his second year with the team. B·A·R have taken up their option on the 26-year-old Japanese driver, which will see him moving up from his current role as the team's third driver.
Takuma's first year in Formula One came courtesy of B·A·R when he tested for the team in 2001. He impressed the team with his speed that year, but with no race seat available for 2002, Takuma decided to accept an offer from Jordan to race for them and gain more experience. B·A·R retained a close interest in his progress and he returned to the team as third driver in 2003 with valuable experience under his belt, which he has consolidated with a year spent testing with the team.
"The team very much appreciates Jacques Villeneuve's commitment over the past five years,” Dave Richards said. “However, as his contract with the team has come to an end, we believe this is the appropriate time to refresh the driver line-up. We welcome Takuma as Jenson's team-mate for 2004. He has done an excellent job for us in testing this year and has confirmed our long-held belief that he has enormous potential. Takuma is widely regarded as a very fast driver and he has had a meteoric rise to Formula One.”
“When he drove for Jordan in 2002 he had just four years' prior racing experience and during that first season we saw flashes of brilliance, which he underlined with an impressive performance in the Japanese Grand Prix last year. After a further year of testing with B·A·R in 2003, we firmly believe that he deserves the opportunity to translate his natural speed into consistent race performances.”
"With Jenson moving into his fifth season in Formula One and his second with B·A·R, he will provide the counter-balance of experience alongside the fresh enthusiasm of Takuma. A young and hungry driver line-up is essential for us to move closer to achieving our Championship ambitions."
A delighted Takuma Sato commented:
"Of course, I am extremely happy to be confirmed as race driver for B·A·R next year. This is what I have been working hard all year to achieve and now that the decision is made I am looking forward to proving myself again in the team next year. A year out of racing has been tough for me, but I am confident that the work we have done this year in testing has been extremely valuable in helping me and the team become a strong partnership. I have built good relationships with many people in the team this year and feel very positive that together we can be successful next season. Now, of course, I can't wait to start the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix in March."
Commenting on behalf of the team's title sponsor Lucky Strike, Jimmi Rembiszewksi, Marketing Director for British American Tobacco, said:
"We would like to pay tribute to Jacques Villeneuve's determination to succeed over the past five years. He made a courageous decision to join B·A·R and put his career in the hands of the challenging and innovative individuals who founded the team. We wish him every success in the future and we look forward to Takuma demonstrating his true potential next season."
Takeo Kiuchi, Honda F1 Project Leader, said:
"Everyone at Honda is looking forward to working with Takuma again next year. We have all been very impressed with the development work he has done this season and we are sure all that effort will be turned into race results next year. I would also like to offer my thanks to Jacques for his support over the four years that Honda has been with the team. We wish him every success for the future."