Button saga overshadows Alonso's curtain call

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The Independent Online

Curiously, though, Interlagos does not have the feel of such a momentous occasion.

Perhaps it is because of the circuit's shabbiness, which is unbecoming of a Formula One venue. Oulton Park and Snetterton in the UK, even Cadwell Park, are smarter. Perhaps it is the fact that the Brazilians do not see fit to have telephones in their press office, where upwards of 400 journalists are busy trying to promote their race for free. (Though perhaps the latter is just FIA president Max Mosley's latest ploy to retard the advance of technology).

It all seems just a tad sad and lethargic, as if nobody here can quite be bothered to make the effort. But please, Messrs Ecclestone and Mosley, don't let's hear any more about the "third world" state of Silverstone when we come to a place such as this. England's premier track is a veritable palace by comparison.

There is one very happy man here, however. "Ecstatic," was the word he used to describe his feelings, and there aren't too many drivers who say that after shelling out more than £18m. A lot of them would pay that (if they had it) to secure themselves an F1 ride; but Jenson Button did it to escape one. Last Wednesday the Button Saga II finally came to its conclusion as the 25-year-old Englishman dug into his pockets to pay off Sir Frank Williams, who held a binding contract on his services for 2006.

You are quite correct, of course, those who remember that this time last year Button was busy trying to escape from BAR Honda to join Williams, who threw him his F1 lifeline back in 2000.

When somebody reminded him that this was the second year running in which everyone had trooped to Brazil to find that he would be staying with BAR (last year the Contract Recognition Board said it was BAR who had the binding deal for 2005), Button had the grace to acknowledge the irony.

"I'm ecstatic that we have sorted the situation between Frank and me," he said. "It was not a nice situation to be in, but I'd like to say thank you to Frank because we were able to stop it before it went any further. Obviously when it all finally happened I was a very happy person. We all knew what we wanted, and it's best for all of the people involved. I'm so excited about the future with BAR Honda. It's not been cheap for me, but I'm sure it will be worth it."

While Button now believes he has given himself the chance to vie for the title in the years to come, Fernando Alonso knows that, barring disaster, his time is at hand. Renault have provided him with an almost bulletproof car that has competitive speed and while McLaren have a slightly faster machine, they have compromised their chances by dropping the ball, Australian style, on too many occasions. Alonso needs only a third-place finish for the six points he needs to become world champion. Thus it matters not if McLaren finally score their long overdue one-two result. All Alonso needs is to chase them to get home and dry with two races left.

The success would not only make him Spain's first champion, but also history's youngest. At 24 years and two months, he would overtake the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, who was 25 years and 10 months old when he succeeded Jackie Stewart in 1972.

The Spaniard says he is not feeling nervous. "We have been quick in Brazil in recent years, and now our car is even stronger in every area," he said. "To become world champion is the maximum for a driver, so I am happy and proud to have the possibility. But being the youngest is not what motivates me. The maximum for a sportsman is to be the best in his championship, and to be the best in Formula One is the ultimate for any racing driver. But as always, I will be trying to do the maximum. What's the point of going to a race and only aiming for a podium? You can't do that, you have to want to be the best, to attack."

In practice so far both men have been fast. McLaren have been setting the pace, as expected, but only just. If anyone is to upset them this weekend it is likely to be Alonso or Button.