Button's F1 future resides with the judges

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The Independent Online

Three independent judges in Milan continued to hold Jenson Button's future in their hands last night, as Formula One's Contract Recognition Board failed to reach a conclusion.

Three independent judges in Milan continued to hold Jenson Button's future in their hands last night, as Formula One's Contract Recognition Board failed to reach a conclusion on whether the 24-year-old Englishman must stay with his BAR-Honda team or is free to rejoin BMW-Williams for the 2005 season. Legal arguments were concluded, but the verdict will not now be announced until Wednesday.

The argument between the two parties began early in August, days after Button had finished a fighting second for BAR in the German Grand Prix. The news that Button wanted to leave was greeted with incredulity. Only weeks earlier he had denied having any interest in returning to the team which gave him his F1 chance back in 2000.

"You can't keep chopping and changing," he said. "Continuity is very important within a team, and for the drivers. I'm very happy here. We are very open with each other and say what we think, which really works."

Behind the scenes, however, there had been arguments about money. Button's deal was based on performance, but the team wanted to pay out only down to sixth place, saying that had been the system when he signed with them in 2002; Button argued that since then points-scoring positions had been extended down to eighth place, so payment was owing.

The BAR team principal David Richards said at the time: "We are absolutely astounded to hear that Jenson thinks that he is leaving BAR for Williams next season. Neither myself, nor any other member of the team, has been contacted by Jenson to discuss this matter. He is under contract with BAR for 2005, since we took up an option on his services only last month. It is our intention to enforce our current contractual position."

In September, "deeply hurt" by the way he had been portrayed as a spoilt, ungrateful kid, Button said: "As far as I am concerned, I will be at Williams next year. It will happen. It's not about money. I could have earned substantially more if I had stayed with BAR. We talked everything through with BAR and Honda, and they made a counter-offer. But my reason for going is that my aim in F1 is to be world champion.

"I'm not rejoining Frank's team for emotional reasons. They have a lot of fantastic people there and technically they are very strong. BAR are a very good team, but they do not have Williams's resources. They are a couple of years behind. I can't keep finishing third in the drivers' championship. I want to be the champion."

Angered by the knock his image has taken since, he added: "The contract issues got me quite annoyed. I feel let down and disappointed. If I wasn't performing, OK, but look at the results I've achieved this year. I don't think things have been handled perfectly. People think David Richards and I are close friends. We have a good relationship at the track, but it's not an 'alright, mate!' sort of thing. Our contract issues have been tough and we tried very hard to resolve them, but they are one of many things.

"I don't feel let down by the team, but I do feel let down by David in certain ways."

Button will give Williams the fresh motivation they need, and has the experience now to win races, the very reasons BAR want to keep him.

The Contract Recognition Board was set up at the F1 teams' behest after Flavio Briatore and the Benetton team stole Michael Schumacher from Jordan after the German's first race in 1991.

The first case it heard bore similarities to Button's, when Mika Hakkinen signed a deal with McLaren in early 1993 even though Lotus had taken up their option on him after running him in 1991 and '92.

The Board ruled in McLaren's favour, saying that the wording of the Lotus option was too loose. If they rule on Monday that Button must stay with BAR, it is likely that a release from his contract with the team will be negotiated by lawyers, with compensation being paid to BAR. Given Button's comments on the team, it is highly unlikely that he would stay there another two years.