DECEMBER 20, 1999
Who will join Schumacher at BMW Williams?
AS we suggested recently, Williams has been looking at a number of possible drivers to replace Alex Zanardi. The Italian is still nominally a Williams driver but we understand that this is only until the lawyers have sorted out a settlement with the BMW Williams team. Last week at Jerez the team ran Bruno Junqueira, Darren Manning and Jorg Muller in the Williams-BMW FW21B test car. The test was to give the new engine more mileage and assess the 2000-spec tires provided by Bridgestone, but also to see what the three drivers were able to achieve. Junqueira had driven for the team at an earlier test so had a small advantage over Manning and the times reflected this. There was some trouble with the new engine's oil system which caused some delays but the team went away having been able to assess all three drivers.
In recent days we have heard that there might be another candidate for the drive and all the indications are that it is probably the soon-to-be 20-year-old British driver Jenson Button who did a highly-impressive job in a test last week for Prost Grand Prix. Button cut short a holiday in Mexico to attend the test in Barcelona. It was not his first run in an F1 car having run a McLaren for 20 laps at Silverstone in November as part of his prize for winning the 1998 McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award.
The Prost team - which is sponsored by Total, the sister company of Button's sponsor Fina - has no job to offer Button next season. It has already signed Jean Alesi and Nick Heidfeld for F1 and Andre Couto and Sebastien Bourdais for Formula 3000. This has led to suggestions that Prost may have been running Button as a favor for McLaren, which is still to decide who will be its second driver in Formula 3000. We heard some weeks ago that Button had turned down a long-term deal with McLaren, feeling that it was better to remain at liberty for the moment rather than being tied to a team for a long period. McLaren cannot offer Button a chance in F1 but Williams might be in a position to do so...
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