JULY 31, 2000
Button and Benetton
AS we exclusively predicted a month ago Jenson Button will shortly be confirmed as a Benetton driver for next year. The deal which has been agreed is dependent on Juan Pablo Montoya being released by Target Chip Ganassi Racing to join Williams but all the indications are that this is now just a formality and should be completed by the end of the week. Montoya is expected to be replaced in CART by the Williams test driver Bruno Junqueira.
The deal with Benetton is believed to be worth $3m to Button but he will also be paid a retainer by Williams so that the team can have first option on his services for the next few years. The youngster received offers from a variety of teams notably Jaguar Racing, British American Racing and Jordan but the Benetton deal was the best on offer although it is probable that Button might have got a better financial deal with another team.
It is expected that Giancarlo Fisichella will stay with the team next year although the Italian is believed to have received a big offer from Jaguar Racing. If Fisichella does move on there is no shortage of drivers who would be happy to join Button. The team has been testing Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia and Italian Giorgio Pantano. Both have potential but probably need a little more time to develop. The team is also expected to test Australian Mark Webber and if those tests go well it is possible that he might land a seat next year. Benetton is in the process of being rebuilt as a Renault F1 team and spending a lot of money on drivers does not make an awful lot of sense. In the past team boss Flavio Briatore has been happy to use young (and therefore cheap) drivers to see how they develop. Once under contract they can be sold on to other teams if necessary. The other option for the team if Fisichella moves on is to take on Olivier Panis who is keen to get back into racing next season after a year as McLaren's test driver. Panis has the advantage of being a French-speaking driver which is something that Renault would prefer to have.
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