Schumacher grabs pole as Button row rumbles on

Hungarian Grand Prix: Williams threaten court action to keep best of British while Barrichello agrees switch to BAR
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The Independent Online

If the Hungaroring is to excitement and overtaking what political correctness is to freedom of speech, at least some of the off-track action has entertained. First of all there has been BAR-Honda's clumsy handling of Jenson Button's hope of breaking his Williams contract to stay with them. Then came confirmation that Rubens Barrichello will be quitting Ferrari at the end of the season to go to BAR. Whether he will partner Button or the current No 2, Takuma Sato, is unlikely to be resolved for many months.

"I suppose it is ironic," Button conceded, having done everything he could 12 months ago to try to leave BAR for Williams. "But I need to be in the best position that I can be, with the best team. I've been in F1 six years and I haven't won a race. I want to win races and fight for the world championship, and I cannot afford three years to build up another team. It was definitely a mistake to sign a contract so early, I was a little misguided, but that's ultimately my responsibility."

To which Sir Frank Williams countered: "Jenson could have been better advised. Williams have a fully binding contract. There is no let-out clause. It is very clear and straightforward. There needs to be a clear understanding of the word 'commitment'. Once you give your word, you should keep your word.

"We have a right - and proper and correct legal right - to expect him to be here. English law is as clear as it comes. We will defend ourselves in court. We will protect our interests. Jenson Button emphatically, in capital letters, is not for sale."

The news about Barrichello lacked such drama. BAR's sporting director, Gil de Ferran, who has known his fellow Brazilian Barrichello since childhood, simply told Brazilian television: "It's always nice to work with old friends".

There is no word yet on who will replace Barrichello, but Sauber's Felipe Massa must be a good bet after several excellent drives in 2005. Asked recently who he thought was doing a good job out of the limelight, Michael Schumacher replied: "Massa. Give him a good car and I am sure that he will shine." Massa said yesterday that nothing has yet been agreed, but he was Ferrari's test driver in 2003 and has proved he is more than ready to move up.

Ferrari, like BAR and Renault, face other problems. This race marks the last time that cars may officially appear with tobacco advertising, which first appeared on Colin Chapman's Lotus F1 cars in 1968. The pan-European ban comes in at midnight tonight amid confusion over possible clarifications that would allow these teams to continue carrying logos at certain venues.

The anti-smoking pressure group ASH launched a public attack on those teams who plan to carry on. Their director, Deborah Arnott, said: "It is deplorable that Formula One teams, under pressure from their tobacco sponsors, are threatening to undermine the new law when its intention is perfectly clear - that is, an end to the glamorisation of smoking via sport.

"It is also regrettable that the European Commission have not given member states clear guidance on the implementation of the directive. But that does not give Formula One free rein to ignore the law."

Legal matters, meanwhile, appear to be the only hold-up to peace in Formula One, after a meeting in Cannes on Saturday morning saw FIA's president. Max Mosley, agree to the technical and sporting aspects of proposals put before him by the newly named Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association, aimed at unifying the sport from 2008 onwards. Further talks are expected, but there is hope in the air.

Hope is also blossoming in the Ferrari camp after Michael Schumacher surprised all his rivals by snatching a dominant pole position for this afternoon's race from McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya and Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Kimi Raikkonen did a brilliant job to line up fourth despite being the first man to qualify, when the track was at its worst, while the series leader, Fernando Alonso, failed to get the best from his Renault and is only sixth in the line-up. The question everyone is asking is just how little fuel Schumacher has on board, and whether he can convert such a bold strategy into his second race win of the season, though he put the improvement down to a new Bridgestone tyre.

The normal ups and downs of Formula One life. One day, all that is rank about the sport surfaces, the next day all the good. But amidst it all, a footnote to some but not to his family and friends, McLaren's chef Darren Hawker was mourned after falling to his death on Wednesday morning from a hotel balcony in Budapest. For these people, the other aspects of a self-centred and avaricious sport paled into their true perspective.