(CNN) -- Nick Heidfeld has left his role as reserve driver at Mercedes to become a tester for Pirelli ahead of the Italian company's return to Formula One as the sport's sole tire supplier next year.
The 33-year-old German had driven in F1 for a decade but was left without a seat when BMW ended its association with the Sauber team at the end of last season.
He was given a lifeline when Mercedes took over the world champion Brawn GP team this year, becoming back-up to returning seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
"I would like to thank Ross Brawn, Norbert Haug and Nick Fry for allowing me the opportunity to become Pirelli's official test driver," Heidfeld told F1's official website.
"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."
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said: "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."
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice-president Haug said the move might help Heidfeld find a drive for 2011.
"It would be great to see Nick in a competitive car in next year's world championship and I am sure his leading role in the new tire development, in addition to his skills, puts him in a good position for the remaining seats in 2011," Haug said.
"There could be no more experienced and knowledgeable driver in the cockpit to steer the tire 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."
Pirelli will begin testing this week in a Toyota TF109 car from last season, with Bridgestone stepping aside at the end of 2010.
The Milan-based company has not been involved in F1 since 1991, but has landed a three-year contract to provide all teams with tires to go with its exclusive deals with motorcycling's World Superbike and British Superbike categories.