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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 06:39 GMT
Golden season beckons for F1
By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport

Jenson Button has warned Formula One fans to expect one of the closest title battles for years when the 2004 season gets under way in Australia in March.

The three-way scrap between Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya last season did much to revive flagging interest in the sport.

But Button told this website that he expects the excitement value to rocket next year as the chasing pack put top teams Ferrari, McLaren and Williams under increased pressure.

BUTTON AT THE BEEB
Jenson Button has been promoting the BBCi on TV service
Button is backing the BBC's digital TV information service
And the British driver insists that the improved reliability of his new BAR car will allow him to regularly push for a place on the podium.

"This has been a great year in Formula One, but next year's going to be mad," said Button.

"It's going to be so competitive. There's not one team you could pick out which is going to be above the rest.

"We're going to be a lot stronger, and Renault will still be around that area. Toyota will be strong and Jaguar are going to make a good step forward.

"It's going to be a great season and it will be good to see the field bunch up a bit more and have some competitive racing."

Button has taken time out from winter testing with BAR to promote the BBCi on TV service, which gives the BBC's digital viewers access to the latest news, sport and entertainment information.

The 23-year-old has rarely been out of the public eye since he made his F1 debut for Williams in 2000.

This time last year, however, he was facing a make-or-break season after being replaced at Renault by Fernando Alonso.

His BAR team-mate Jacques Villeneuve piled on the pressure by saying Button was better known for his "boy band" appeal than his driving.

But Button outscored the 1997 world champion by 17 points to nine over the season - although Villeneuve, who was a close match for Button on pace, suffered more from unreliability.

My time will come at the front and I think it's very near
Jenson Button
The Somerset-born driver admits he enjoyed the trappings of fame when he first broke into F1.

"At the time I was 20, had a bit of money and enjoyed myself," he said. "I bought some nice cars, got a boat and a nice house and it was great.

"But as soon as you start not performing people say you're a playboy and that you're spending too much time enjoying yourself and not concentrating on your career.

"It's true in one way but I've got rid of all that now. I think I lost the playboy image anyway because of my performances - and I have a fiancee.

"I've sold the boat, sold the cars and a lot has changed. I've grown up a lot and realised the things I've done wrong. I'm very focused, and very happy."

Button could not achieve a maiden podium finish in 2003 - despite leading for 15 laps at Indianapolis - but finished the season on a high with fourth place in Japan.

"I didn't go into the year to prove myself, but I was so happy after Suzuka about the season," he said.

"I just think I've done a great job, given everything and proved that I have the ability to be at the front.

"I'm not just a driver who is quick - I can work with the team very well. My time will come at the front and I think it's very near."

Button is bracing himself for repeated questions about a possible return to his old team Williams in 2005, following the news that Juan Pablo Montoya is switching to McLaren.

"If I don't perform next year nothing will happen, so I've just got to focus on that," said Button.

"I want to be in the best car, one that can give me the world championship. But I think we're moving in the right direction, and I want to be in a team that I've built around me."




F1 REVIEW 2003

SCHUMI'S RECORD YEAR

PHOTO GALLERIES

EVERY TEAM ANALYSED
 

EACH DRIVER PROFILED
 

2003 SEASON RACE BY RACE
 

A LAP OF ALL THE CIRCUITS
 


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