JUNE 23, 2002
Pushing and shoving on the driver market
THE Nurburgring paddock was not very active in terms of the 2003 driver market although there was clearly some friction at British American Racing where Jacques Villeneuve and team boss David Richards were at odds over the details of his contract. Villeneuve seems to hold all the cards with a solid 2003 deal agreed in 2001. This will pay him something like $20m. Richards, who inherited the situation from previous chief executive Craig Pollock, says that he will be happy to abide by the contract but that if has to be this way the team will suffer as it will not have as big a development budget as would otherwise be the case.
The story coincided with rumbling at Renault that the team does not want to keep Jenson Button. This was odd as only a few weeks ago it looked as though all was well and good for Jenson. Why the apparent change of heart? There were many theories and as many of those involved were spouting forth comments which could not be trusted it was hard to figure out what was happening.
Button is a Renault favorite (Renault in Paris at least) but the Frenchmen might be more interested in the possibility of Villeneuve getting back into the team. Villeneuve lest we forget speaks French and was Renault's last World Champion in 1997. And he came very close to signing a deal with Renault in 2000 but turned it down because he wanted to stay with BAR. But now that BAR is no longer run by Villeneuve's pal Craig Pollock, he might take the opportunity to see if Renault is still willing to offer him the same kind of money and then jump ship. This would open the way for BAR could then hire a cheap young driver and invest the money saved in research and development. The deal might be sweetened if one of the drivers involved was one of Flavio Briatore's stable: Mark Webber being the obvious choice.
If this is what is going on, it would explain the need for Button to look elsewhere for employment...
Jaguar Racing might not seem like a great option at the moment but the team can hardly get worse than it is and it does have a major manufacturer behind it and, so it is claimed, a commitment to the future...
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