Button's two-year move to Benetton

Derick Allsop
Thursday 17 August 2000 00:00
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Jenson Button's long summer in limbo ends today when Benetton confirm they have secured his services from Williams-BMW, who are replacing him with the Colombian, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Jenson Button's long summer in limbo ends today when Benetton confirm they have secured his services from Williams-BMW, who are replacing him with the Colombian, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Barring a last-minute, embarrassing hitch, it will be announced that Button, Britain's youngest-ever Formula One driver, has a two-year contract with the team now owned by Renault. Button, for one, was not anticipating any further hold-up. He revealed his new job on his own website (jensonbutton.com) early this morning. He - and most others in the grand prix fraternity - have known for weeks that he would be made available by Williams. It was clear as long ago as last month that Benetton had beaten off Jaguar and BAR-Honda to sign him. Everyone was kept waiting by Williams, who had to negotiate Montoya's release from the American team, Ganassi Racing. That piece of business would now appear to have been completed. Williams' test driver, the Brazilian, Bruno Junqueira, is among the contenders for the vacant Ganassi seat.

Button won a pre-season dual with Junqueira for the Williams drive. It was a calculated risk on a driver with only two years experience with car-racing. Williams believed he had a rare talent and protected their options by committing him to a five-year agreement.

He followed a promising start with a comparative dip which coincided with Montoya's emphatic victory, albeit against modest competition, in the Indianapolis 500. Williams decided they wanted to bring back Montoya, another of their "squad" members, a year ahead of schedule.

According to the Formula One grapevine, Williams consider Montoya capable of out-pacing their other driver, Ralph Schumacher, and might even prove a match for the German's elder brother, Michael.

Ganassi declared themselves reluctant to let go of the CART champion and bargained accordingly. However, Montoya felt that, at the age of 24, he should not delay any further his arrival in Formula One.

Ironically, Button's form has improved in recent weeks and he had an outstanding fourth place at the German Grand Prix, where his car control in the wet particularly impressed Michael Schumacher. Williams declined to sell Button's contract, retaining the right to recall him in 2003, but significantly his suitors were not deterred. It is understood his two-year deal could earn him up to £5m.

Button feels he can become a winner with Benetton, who are again under the stewardship of Flavio Briatore, the man who lured Michael Schumacher from Jordan and passed him on to Ferrari a double champion. The Italian has already signed his countryman, Giancarlo Fisichella, for another year and the drivers will have joint No 1 status.

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