Judges force Button to remain with BAR-Honda

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Jenson Button must stay with the BAR-Honda team in 2005, the judges on the Contract Recognition Board ruled in Milan yesterday.

After hearing presentations from the Brackley-based team, who had taken up an option on Button's services for 2005 in August, and from Williams-BMW, who believed they had seen a loophole in the manner in which the option was taken up, the judges ruled in BAR's favour.

The head of BAR, David Richards, said: "I'm delighted to confirm that we just received the official notification."

That would be a major blow for Anthony Davidson's hopes of earning a Formula One seat. The Hemel Hempstead-born driver was thought to be a near certainty to take over from Button if the CRB had allowed him to switch to Williams.

There is a precedent in obliging a driver to abide by an existing contract when he wants to move. This came in 1994 when David Coulthard sought to move to McLaren for the 1995 season but was ultimately forced to see out a contract with Williams. The Scot, who takes part in his 150th grand prix for McLaren this weekend and possibly his last, joined the team in 1996.

It now remains to be seen whether financial negotiations continue to unravel Button from his binding BAR contract, which could keep him with the team until the end of 2006, or whether Sir Frank Williams will simply nominate a stand-in driver until he can legally employ Button. Sources suggest that the Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, or German Nick Heidfeld, could fit the bill.

Rumour also suggests that Button will now consider a change of management after the damage the situation has done to his public image.

The British Racing Drivers' Club reacted with resigned exasperation yesterday to Bernie Ecclestone's latest move in the war over the British Grand Prix, a carefully leaked declaration that the race is dead. The Formula One commercial rights holder said he had to respond immediately as a rival promoter wanted a race in another country and could not afford to wait for an answer.

"What could I do?" Ecclestone asked. "I have got an offer from another country who are looking to build a lovely venue and invest a lot of money in Formula One, and they will pay the going rate. I have to give them a year's notice to go ahead.

"If I miss that because I am still messing about with the BRDC, I would be keeping out a country that desperately wants to be in the Formula One World Championship."

The move is seen as another means of piling yet more pressure on to the club that owns Silverstone, the permanent home of the British Grand Prix since 1987, and the circuit that kicked off the official world championship in May 1950.

"Bernie's letter came in response to one we had written him a few days' earlier," the BRDC chief executive, Alex Hooton, said. "We are very disappointed that he has made this press comment. We had moved to a position whereby the financial side of a contract was largely resolved."