Button forecasts late charge as Benetton bow out

Against a backdrop of Saint Mark's, the blue car looked insignificant, even irrelevant, but then inspiration is a powerful force and Benetton may need the help as they seek a grand finale in Formula One.

Against a backdrop of Saint Mark's, the blue car looked insignificant, even irrelevant, but then inspiration is a powerful force and Benetton may need the help as they seek a grand finale in Formula One.

The Italian clothing company who first ventured into grand prix racing in 1983, eventually establishing their own team and twice claiming the drivers' championship in the name of Michael Schumacher, are stepping down at the end of this season as Renault assume not only full control but also the title of the team.

All involved in the operation, on both sides of the Channel, concede that they expect no miracles in the first half of the championship but hope to establish a platform for a genuine assault on the front runners in 2002.

The spirit of the new team is captured in the arrival of Britain's Jenson Button as partner to Italy's Giancarlo Fisichella. Benetton-Renault expect the 21-year-old released by Williams-BMW to push Fisichella and improve overall performance.

Renault won six constructors' championships and five drivers' titles as partners to other teams but now they relish the challenge of winning Formula One's ultimate prize in their own right, as Ferrari did last year.

Button shares that ambition although he recognises he may require some patience this season. He was a revelation in his maiden season and now expectations shadow his every step.

He said: "I won't really find it frustrating if we can't compete high up the grid in the early part of this season. As long as I can see the improvement and we produce good results in the second half of this season that will be good enough. I know what is coming on screen and that we can progress together. That's the exciting part, to be part of a team that is growing and has real ambition.

"If I thought I was going to finish 13th and 14th for the rest of my career I'd give it up now. I want to be known as the best in the world and win the championship. But I'm 21... It's my second season and that's my long-term objective.''

Button admits his domestic rivalry with Fisichella and the competition with Williams, who have replaced him with Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya, will add an edge to his season.

He said: "Giancarlo is quick, quicker than I realised. He knows the team and the car. You are always judged against your team-mate so there will be pressure. But we get on well and I think we'll work well together. When we get to the front, then we can fight each other, hopefully for the title.

"As far as I know I'm here for two years and then supposed to be going back to Williams, but now they are one of the teams we aim to beat. It would be great and rather funny to finish ahead of them this season. Third-best in the championship is the best we can be looking for and it would be nice even to stay fourth.''

He added: "Some things have definitely changed for me since I came into Formula One. I wear more expensive clothes and don't have to pay for them. But hopefully I've changed for the better. Every other 21-year-old would want to be in Formula One but that's not enough. I need the success."

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