AUGUST 6, 2004
Button and Williams
The announcement that Jenson Button has gone to BMW Williams in 2005 and 2006 has come as a huge surprise for everyone in Formula 1, even team boss Frank Williams. At the start of this year Williams said that his perfect driver line-up for 2005 would be Mark Webber and Jenson Button and it looks like he has got it.
The big question is how this was achieved as it was thought that Button was already under contract to BAR for next season. A Williams insider told The Independent newspaper that "a window of contractual opportunity" opened for a very brief moment and Williams grabbed at the chance. The team has never been one to poach drivers and then try to find a settlement and so one must assume that the move was checked out for legal matters before a decision was made.
"He has been under option to his present team BAR for some time," Williams told BBC Radio last night. "The option expired recently and Button's management called us to say that the option was no longer valid and would we be interested in his services, and of course I reacted as you might expect me to. I think they probably wanted to take up the option but whether they've executed or not will come out in due course."
But BAR-Honda boss David Richards has hit back, saying that "there is absolutely no question we have a valid contract with Jenson."
Richards told The Times newspaper that the team is "utterly shaken" by what has happened.
"I have got 400 people in this factory who have worked their socks off night and day and then the guy who gets all the credit and drinks the champagne turns around and ditches them," he said. "I cannot believe that Jenson wants to leave. There is a hidden agenda here somewhere and we are determined this is not going to happen."
There has been talk that the clause used to get Button out of the contract relates to whether or not Honda has a long-term commitment to the sport. This does not sound like a good enough argument to have got past the Williams lawyers because it is only a few days since Honda announced a three-year extension to its deal with BAR.
There may be other contractual clauses which could have come into play and given the timing, one might speculate that there was an August 1 deadline for whatever caused Button to move. He is currently third in the Drivers' World Championship and the team is third in the Constructors' title and it is inconceivable that Button's BAR contract would have offered him more than that. It could be that there has been no official communication from the team that Button's option had been taken up. This might involve the need to file the new contract with the FIA Contract Recognition Board.
We firmly believe, however, that Williams would not have taken the step unless it was clear that Button was free to move.
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