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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Tales from the pit lane
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor at the Hungarian GP

Jenson Button
Jenson Button is determined to join Williams next season
The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend has been dominated by the row over Jenson Button's decision to quit BAR and sign for rivals Williams in 2005.

BAR and Button are refusing to discuss the issue publicly.

But among Button's main reasons for quitting the team are understood to be his unhappiness at a dispute over financial issues in his contract, and doubt over engine supplier Honda's long-term commitment to F1 because of a change in the wording of their new contract.

Sources say the fall-out from the row could reach all the way to the top of the team.

Both BAR's owner BAT, the multi-national tobacco giant, and Honda are understood to be very unhappy about the prospect of losing Button, and that has raised questions about the position of team principal David Richards.

Richards is advising people to wait for the ruling of F1's contract recognition board before judging the situation.


The psychological warfare between prospective Williams team-mates Jenson Button and Mark Webber has already started.

Webber, renowned as a straight talker, is as hard as they come and Button will know he can expect no quarter from the Australian after the two sat beside each other in a news conference at the Hungaroring.

Hakkinen, who seems to be keen on a comeback, could still race in F1 next season, taking the BAR seat that Button is to vacate.

Webber made a point of saying that before his move to Williams became public, he had addressed all the staff at his Jaguar team to explain why he was moving.

"I wanted to be very clear with them and a lot of people were shaking my hand and were happy," he said.

The contrast with Button's handling of his decision to sign for Williams - doing the deal behind BAR's back, going to ground for three days and refusing to answer the phone to talk his team boss - could not have been more pronounced.

And asked his feelings about having Button as his partner at Williams next year, assuming the dispute over the Englishman's contract is settled that way, Webber seemed to imply he would rather have had Giancarlo Fisichella.

Webber said: "If I had known Jenson was on the market [when Webber signed for Williams], clearly he would have been a driver who, you know, after Giancarlo, Jenson would be fantastic for me, ideal for me and the team."


Had Williams not become aware of their chance to sign Jenson Button, the team would have snapped up double world champion Mika Hakkinen, a source says.

The 35-year-old Finn, who retired in 2001, was close to signing for Williams when the opportunity to sign Button arose.

Hakkinen, who seems to be keen on a comeback, could still race in F1 next season, taking the BAR seat that Button is to vacate.


If Hakkinen does end up at BAR next season, that could leave his former team-mate David Coulthard's future in doubt.

The Scot will be replaced at McLaren by Juan Pablo Montoya next year and his options are narrowing.

BAR boss David Richards is understood to be keen on Coulthard if he loses Jenson Button, but engine supplier Honda is less so.

Coulthard also has a chance at Jaguar, but the future of that team remains unclear and it is unlikely to have the budget to allow it to move up the grid next season. Coulthard's only other chance appears to be Sauber.

But the Swiss team, effectively a satellite Ferrari outfit, are said to be poised to give Formula 3000 championship leader Vitantonio Liuzzi a drive.

Liuzzi is believed to be joining Ferrari on a long-term deal that could see him promoted to the world champion team in the future.


Jaguar's future in Formula One is the subject of much speculation in the paddock in Hungary.

Jaguar team boss Tony Purnell
Purnell says he is 'pretty optimistic' about Jaguar's future

There are claims the team will pull out of the sport altogether next year, although team boss Tony Purnell played that down when asked by BBC Sport.

Purnell admitted he has to find sponsorship to augment owner Ford's funding and said he could not definitively say the team would continue.

But he said he was "pretty optimistic" about the future, adding it would "seem senseless" and "be a bit of a surprise" for Ford to quit F1 when the car company was improving its financial position - albeit from its disastrous state two years ago.

Other rumours suggest the team will continue, but with the Jaguar name disappearing to be replaced by that of parent company Ford.

Yet more say Ford could sell the team to new owners, perhaps the boss of the Red Bull soft drink company or to leading Formula 3000 outfit Arden.


The prize for the weekend's most brazen hypocrisy goes to the Jordan team's backers, Bahrain.

The Middle Eastern kingdom sponsors Jordan and is this year using the space on the cars' engine covers to carry a series of messages at every race.

In Hungary the cars bear the slogan Stop Global Warming. Given that F1 cars do about three miles per gallon, that is a bit like Ben Johnson telling athletes not to take drugs.




SEE ALSO
Button sets the pace
14 Aug 04  |  Formula One
F1 strugglers attack rivals
13 Aug 04  |  Formula One
Coulthard keen to drive on
12 Aug 04  |  Motorsport
Raikkonen underlines intent
13 Aug 04  |  Formula One


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