Mercedes Grand Prix has confirmed that reserve driver Nick Heidfeld has been released to join F1 2011 tyre-supplier Pirelli as the Italian marque's official test driver with immediate effect.

Having seen off French rival Michelin to win the sole tyre-supply contract to the top flight from next year onwards, Pirelli's testing programme was set to kick off at Mugello yesterday (Monday), with Heidfeld at the wheel of a 2009-spec Toyota TF109 [see separate story - click here]. A series of subsequent outings at Jerez, Monza and Paul Ricard will see the experienced German conduct development work on the tyre compounds to be used next season.

"First of all I would like to thank Ross Brawn, Norbert Haug and Nick Fry for allowing me the opportunity to become Pirelli's official test driver," the 33-year-old remarked. "The team has always said that they would not stand in my way if such a chance arose, and they have kindly allowed me to take up this exciting new role.

"I would like to thank everyone at Mercedes for the great co-operation that we have had this year. I have greatly enjoyed supporting the team in my position as reserve driver and have felt welcome right from the outset. It was impressive to have the opportunity to work with the current world champions, and I wish the team all the best for the remainder of the season and beyond."

For their part, Brawn and Haug similarly paid tribute to Heidfeld's qualities honed from a decade of active competition at the highest level with Prost, Sauber, Jordan, Williams and most recently BMW.

"We can confirm that the team is pleased to allow Nick the opportunity to join Pirelli and contribute to their development work for the company's imminent return to F1," revealed the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Brawn.

"Nick is an extremely experienced driver and we are confident that his racing knowledge and technical feedback will prove extremely useful to Pirelli and therefore of benefit to the sport as a whole. Nick has been a real asset to Mercedes since joining our team this year, and we are pleased to see his career progressing."

"It was clear from the beginning of our co-operation that Mercedes would release Nick from his obligations as soon as a promising opportunity as an active F1 driver developed," concurred the Stuttgart manufacturer's motorsport vice-president Haug. "This is now the case, and there could be no more experienced and knowledgeable driver in the cockpit to steer the tyre development for next season.

"We thank Nick for his contribution to our team over the last nine months and wish him well with his new challenge. It would be great to see Nick in a competitive car in next year's F1 World Championship, and I am sure his leading role in the new tyre development, in addition to his skills, puts Nick in a good position for the remaining seats in 2011."

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