Stiff neck drives Irvine off the road

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The Independent Online

Eddie Irvine is certain to compete in next week's British Grand Prix, despite being forced to pull out of a Jaguar test this week because of a neck problem. The Ulsterman, who missed testing at Silverstone late last month, has been withdrawn from the three-day session at Monza in Italy as a precaution after complaining of a stiff neck.

"Like most injuries of this nature, time is the best healer," Nav Sidhu, the Jaguar Racing spokesman, said. "The injury was treated last month and Eddie has since raced at the Grand Prix of Europe and the French Grand Prix without any recurrence, albeit until this morning.

"Because of back-to-back races, the injury has not fully settled and has been irritated again, although it's nowhere near as painful as it was last month when literally any neck movement generated pain. The recurrence still allows for 90 per cent neck movement, but in an effort to get on top of this once and for all, we have decided to pull him out of the test to ensure he's in perfect shape for the British Grand Prix. There is absolutely no question of him not racing at Silverstone next week."

Jenson Button has been promised a "better weapon" with which to compete – but not until next year. Patrick Faure has said it will be the middle of next season when Renault, as Benetton will be re-named for 2002, can expect to battle with the likes of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.

The Renault Sport president insisted that he was happy with Button's displays in his first year of a two-year loan deal from Williams, but added that no decision had been made on the driver line-up for next season. Button's position at the team has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks following a disappointing season which has not been helped by an underperforming car.

Button has not outqualified team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella since the opening race in Australia, but was just one-tenth-of-a-second off the pace of the Italian in France last weekend.

"We have not made up our minds about the drivers next year," Faure said. "But I am very happy with what Jenson has done and he came back strong in France when he was very close to Fisichella. Until the last 30 seconds of qualifying Jenson was ahead. I think we have got two very good drivers. We have had a bad start to the year but that has not been their fault because they have not had the best engine or car and I hope we are going to give them a better weapon next season."

Faure also dismissed speculation that Benetton's managing director Flavio Briatore and technical director Mike Gascoyne would be leaving. "There is nothing to these rumours," he said.