Renault's head gives 'new man' Button his backing

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The Independent Online

Jenson Button received the perfect pre-season boost yesterday after being told his Formula One job is safe for this year. Flavio Briatore, the head of the Renault team, scotched any speculation that the 22-year-old would be ousted from the cockpit and insisted Button was a new man this year, after being affected by all the hype last season.

"Jenson will be driving for us all season," said Briatore. "I want to help Jenson in his career, not destroy him. There is no reason for us to have another driver. He is a new man this year, he is much more focused and committed to his job. The problem for Jenson last year was the fact he had a very good first season with Williams, but he believed all the hype that he was a big star and already a perfect driver.

"Jenson was too young for all that was being said about him. He found it difficult at the start, but at the end of last season we were beginning to see a different Jenson. He needed to be shaken and we had to do that."

Briatore last year offered Button the chance to walk away from the first year of his two-season loan deal after he scored just two points compared to the 12 he achieved with Williams in his maiden year.

But he gave Button his public backing as they helped unveil Renault's first car of their full-blown return to F1 at their technical centre outside Paris yesterday. And he applauded Button's decision to part company with his management duo – he is expected to announce a new team in the next few days – having come in for criticism for the amount of his promotional appearances last year.

"When he came to us he had too many distractions off the circuit" added Briatore, who helped Michael Schumacher win the first of his two drivers' crowns at Benetton in the mid -1990s. "He had too many managers, but Jenson is a very intelligent guy and realised that. We spent 10 days together for the first time in Kenya after last season when he was by himself. Our relationship is perfect now. I could see he has changed, but it's not just me, his engineers think so too. Jenson has all the talent, but you also need application to be a F1 driver."

Briatore dismissed thoughts of Renault challenging the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Williams in their first year back. "It would be easier to have lunch on the moon," he said. "We will just be looking to make progress from last year."

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