Should I stay or should I go? A case of deja vu for Jenson Button... 28 Jul 2005
Once again, Jenson Button is in danger of becoming too popular - certainly when it comes to the business of deciding which team he'll be racing for next year as, once again, BAR and Williams look set to do battle over the services of the British driver.
This might seem very familiar. It's less than a year since Button last found himself embroiled in a legal battle as the two teams went to the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) to decide for whom he would race for this year. Having entered the sport with Williams in 2000, Button was still under contract to the team - although he had been loaned to BAR (in the same way that he previously drove for Benetton / Renault). Last year Button wanted to move back to Williams, and his then management team reckoned that it had found a way for him to get out of his contract with BAR. Unsurprisingly, BAR strongly disputed this and, having heard both sides, the CRB agreed - hence Button is still driving for the Brackley-based team this season.
But what about next season? After last year's shenanigans, Button had a performance clause put into his contract with BAR, stating that, if by the end of July this season he had not scored more than 75 percent of the points of the championship leader then the rights for his services in 2006 would revert to Williams. And as, with just one race to go, Button is 72 points adrift of leader Fernando Alonso, that's a mathematical certainty.
Frank Williams certainly thinks so, saying that the contract between his team and Jenson is watertight - and that the Englishman will be in a Williams next year, displacing Nick Heidfeld to some other part of the grid. The only problem is that now BAR want Button to stay, and their star driver seems very keen to do so.
There might be a good reason for this. With BMW's acquisition of the Sauber team, Williams looks set to move away from the German manufacturer's engines for next year and are widely predicted to instead opt for Cosworth power for at least a season. With the prospect of non-works engines for 2006, plus the conspicuous slowness of the Williams in recent races, it's no great surprise if Button is getting cold feet. By contrast, after a shaky start to the season, BAR's performance has been steadily improving, while close ties with Honda look set to improve competitiveness further in the future. Button knows that, if he is compelled to move to Williams, he may find himself struggling to get close to the BARs next year.
So will the lawyers be getting involved again? Hopefully not - but it could still happen. Jenson is considered hot property by both teams for several very good reasons. Importantly, he's still young. Having made his Formula One debut at just 20, he's still only 25 years old - with 90 Grands Prix worth of experience already under his belt. He's also proved himself as being a strong qualifier, consistently fast and, thanks to his ultra-economical driving style, very easy on his cars. Team insiders at BAR also report that he's able to deliver excellent technical feedback. Team boss Nick Fry has even suggested that Button could assume a role at BAR similar to that which Michael Schumacher took on at Ferrari in recent years, moulding and motivating the team around him.
And with Formula One's other young future champions, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, already committed to the McLaren and Renault teams respectively, Button is a seriously attractive catch for either BAR or Williams. It will be fascinating to see where he ends up next year.