Recruitment drive threatens Button

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Jenson Button has been given another warning that his Formula One future with the Williams team is not yet secure.

Frank Williams, the team's owner, has enquired whether the FedEx CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya will be available in 2001, one year before the end of his contract in the United States. Williams is expecting a decision from Montoya's team leader, Chip Ganassi, soon and has an option to buy the Colombian out of his contract at the end of the season.

"We have a long-term option on Montoya's future whenever he comes to F1," said Williams of the team's former test driver. "I have a good relationship with Chip Ganassi and I've asked if Montoya would be available earlier than at the end of 2001. It may well be he'll come early, but he may not."

With Germany's Ralf Schumacher already contracted for next season, Williams is likely to have to decide between Montoya and Button for the other place. The 20-year-old Briton, who has scored three points in his first five races and been denied two more by mechanical failure, has already been warned by Williams that he has to keep performing.

"It is going to be a nasty and nice problem," said Williams earlier this week of his forthcoming decision. "It is what Button does on the track which will make up our mind."

Benetton confirmed yesterday that they were looking for a new test driver to replace Japan's Hidetoshi Mitsusada, who was appointed in January but has so far failed to qualify in his debut season in Formula 3000 with the WRT team.

Benetton gave Italian Giorgio Pantano his first outing in a Formula One car at Jerez in southern Spain on Thursday. Pantano, 21, is currently racing in German Formula Three, and Benetton said he made good progress over 12 laps.

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