JUNE 28, 2001
Fingers on the Button - where does Jenson go now?
JENSON BUTTON could be switched to the Prost F1 team, which is set to use Peugeot-based Asiatech engines next season, as Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore tries to move teenager Fernando Alonso - whom he manages - into the former Benetton squad which becomes the official Renault works team next season.
That would leave the 21-year old British driver partnering Luciano Burti in the French team in which Asiatech is expected to take a 30 per cent stake in return for supplying free engines. The engine supplier may also purchase additional equity to secure a controlling interest.
This was just one of the rumors flying round the paddock at Nurburgring last weekend, although I personally found the most intriguing was that Jaguar had, as they say, "registered an interest" in Jenson Button's services for 2003.
I also understand that the Williams management was informed of this. Just in case they think in terms of having him back to replace Juan Montoya. Which seems unlikely, to say the least.
In Formula 1, perception is everything. With that in mind Button has got something of a problem on his hands. Too many influential movers and shakers reckon he's a bit of a playboy having a good time without anything in the way of hard results to indicate a firm pedigree.
Forget the fact that the boy has obvious natural car control and talent - remember Spa and Suzuka last year? And he also needs to get on terms with Giancarlo Fisichella a bit more forcefully. Until he does that, there will always be a question mark hanging over his long-term credibility.
This is a huge shame. I remember talking to Patrick Head and Gerhard Berger last year, shortly after Jenson's maiden Williams-BMW test at Jerez. Both were enormously impressed with his unflustered speed and the way in which he was instantly recording competitive lap times.
Button is clearly an instinctive driver and, while there is still a question mark over his role as a rough-and-tumble racer, the most pressing challenge he faces is restoring the paddock perception of his status. It is a tricky challenge for the 21-year old and one which not only Jenson, but also his management, should take aboard and consider.
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