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  Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Button at the crossroads

When Jenson Button announced his proud plan to become Formula One's youngest world champion, he surely had no idea that his road to the top would involve more hazard lights than green lights.


The route looked as wide and as fast as a motorway in his rookie season with Williams in 2000.

He scored points in his second race and picked up more on his first appearance in front of an ecstatic home crowd at the British Grand Prix.

He even out-qualified Michael Schumacher around the champion's favourite circuit at Spa.

Jenson Button burst through a chequered flag
Button burst on the scene in 2000
Now Button is on the market because Renault are promoting their even more youthful test driver, Fernando Alonso, to partner Jarno Trulli.

And Button is in danger of being shunted down a side road where the signs have all been muddled.

Wheras Renault are shaping to join the fast lane, with designs on victory next year and the championship after that, Button's main options for 2003 are not even midfield runners.

Jaguar have been in talks, and Toyota, BAR and Sauber have all been suggested as possible destinations.

The thought that Williams may step in when his Renault loan deal expires and recall him at the expense of Juan Pablo Montoya appears wishful thinking of the hallucinatory kind.

Sir Frank Williams is a key admirer, but he is also a winner, and at the moment Montoya is Formula One's coming man and the sport's biggest draw behind Schumacher.

All of which must leave Button wondering what he has done wrong when he seemed to be doing so much right in 2002.

His early hat-trick of top-six finishes this year, after a confidence-boosting close season, suggested his career was back on track as part of a team also emerging from a tunnel.

His battling drive to hold off Michael Schumacher until the final lap in Malaysia was a notable performance, particularly as he was running on three wheels by the end.

Jenson Button (left) poses with Flavio Briatore
Briatore (right) has been impressed by Button's form in 2002

Significantly he looked to have won over his boss, Flavio Briatore, after the dressing down he received for his dismal showing in 2001.

Briatore had been full of praise for the 22-year-old Briton in Brazil, hinting that a new deal could be announced at the British Grand Prix.

Even as recently as the Canadian Grand Prix last month, his song remained the same.

Button has more than double Trulli's points total, despite being out-qualified 7-2 by the Italian.

And he races with greater consistency and panache, even if his team-mate's results have picked up recently.

But when a team advises you to look elsewhere, as Renault have, you know you're in trouble. Even more so when Eddie Irvine tells the world all about it!

To his credit, Button has made light of the speculation over his future, preferring to concentrate on his prospects for a first F1 podium.

Silverstone will be a perfect shop window at a crucial time.

But when the grid's top four teams aren't buying, and nobody's really flashing the chequebook, the sales pitch is a tough business.

See also:

03 Jul 02 | Formula One
03 Jul 02 | Formula One
29 Jun 02 | Formula One
21 Jun 02 | Formula One
23 Jun 02 | Formula One
28 Jun 02 | Formula One
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