Button's rising star sets poser for Williams

Briton's swift development raises questions on wisdom of proposed two-year release to Benetton

"Of course I am delighted because of the result," said Frank Williams, while it was his long-time partner Patrick Head who made specific reference to the achievement of their young driver: "A fourth position is a brilliant result for Jenson."

"Of course I am delighted because of the result," said Frank Williams, while it was his long-time partner Patrick Head who made specific reference to the achievement of their young driver: "A fourth position is a brilliant result for Jenson."

You can only wonder what is going through Williams' mind after another outstanding performance by Jenson Button, the 20-year-old British driver he is seemingly intent on releasing for the next couple of seasons.

Button, forced to start Sunday's German Grand Prix here at the back of the grid after his engine cut out, demonstrated excellent car control in the wet to finish fourth. Those three points hoisted him to eighth in the drivers' championship and consolidated Williams-BMW's third place in the constructors' standings.

An excited, yet patently bemused Button could not resist the ironic post-race comment: "And I'm getting the sack."

Williams will maintain he is getting no such thing, that he is merely being allowed to develop elsewhere. Williams has described Button as a future world champion and is adamant he will not release him from their long-termcontract.

If Button confirms his potential - and Benetton are understood to have secured his services for two years - he will be recalled by Williams. Come then, the team hope their car-engine combination will be good enough to compete for the championship.

There are those in the Formula One paddock who suspect Button will be ready to win races before then and question whether Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian due to replace him at Williams, is a better prospect. Jacques Villeneuve made the switch from CART to Formula One successfully, winning the title with Williams in 1997. Michael Andretti (to McLaren) and Alessandro Zanardi (to Williams) fared with less distinction.

Flavio Briatore, Benetton's team principal, denies a deal with Button is concluded, yet speaks enthusiastically about the youngster. "There are not many young drivers around with his talent," said the Italian who took Michael Schumacher to Benetton and provided him with the opportunity to become a double champion, in his first stint with the team.

"Jenson has been very impressive this year on circuits he does not know. Next year he will improve. He is not only quick, he is also intelligent. You see that he thinks about his racing. This is good, especially in a driver so young."

Briatore's thoughts will doubtless go back to the fledgling Schumacher. It is too early to suggest Button will emerge as a challenger to the German, but Briatore appears convinced he is worth a reported £5m or more over two years.

Salaries are "already crazy" Briatore protests. He also delivers a thinly veiled warning to Button and his advisors, saying: "Either a driver wants to drive to win or he wants to drive for money."

All part of the sparring, of course. Briatore, in common with most team principals, has done extremely well financially out of Formula One. He is a shrewd business operator and knows the market. But so, presumably, do Button's people, and Renault, who have bought Benetton, will consider his fee well spent if he is as good as many believe.

Briatore's public line is that his priority is to re-engage his Italian driver, Giancarlo Fisichella, then turn his attention to the future of his other driver, the hapless Austrian Alexander Wurz, and his possible replacement. It is understood that Briatore has Button's contract in place but cannot sign it until Williams have secured the release of Montoya from GanassiRacing.

There are those who suspect Williams might secretly be hoping a late hitch makes him pull out of negotiations with the American team. They point to Williams' propensity for parting company with some of their better drivers, even champions, such as Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Damon Hill.

Villeneuve left two years after winning his title and his present team, BAR-Honda, have been Benetton's main rivals in the negotiations for Button. Their principal, Craig Pollock, admits to his alarm at the salary being sought for a driver with only 11 grands prix on his CV.

However, Dave Robertson, one of Button's managers, contends they are merely asking for what his driver is worth. "The money is certainly not our priority," he said. "First of all we want to make sure Jenson is with the right team, where he will have a competitive car and the right environment to develop.

"Flavio has the track record. He's a proven winner. The same goes for Renault. They have the resources and the will to be successful again.

"But of course the money has to be right as well. Jenson is going to be a star. Everyone in Formula One knows that. His value has gone up and we would be failing in our duty if we did not get him the best possible deal."

Button, believed to be earning £350,000 this year, may one day be bringing in the millions Schumacher generates, but right now the Ferrari driver will probably wish he could buy a win, a point, or even a finish.

His first-corner exit on Sunday was his second in consecutive races and put him out of a fourth grand prix in five. To his enormous relief, he is still leading the championship, if only by two points from the McLaren-Mercedes pair, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, because his team-mate Rubens Barrichello claimed his maiden Formula One victory.

Much as Schumacher will have been frustrated at the sight of the Brazilian coping masterfully with the mixture of wet and dry conditions, thinking the 10 points would assuredly have been his but for Fisichella's intervention, he would have been encouraged by the performance of the Ferrari.

McLaren were not so dominant here as in Austria a fortnight earlier, and Schumacher must believe he has had his share of misfortune for one summer. He should be confident about his prospects in the Hungarian Grand Prix onSunday week.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn