OCTOBER 20, 2004
The Button saga
The failure of BMW Williams to sign Jenson Button has not been greeted with dismay at Grove. It was a good try and the team believe that it had a good case. In the end, after a lengthy deliberation, the Contract Recognition Board concluded that BAR had a marginally better case than Williams. It was, by all accounts, a very close run thing but BAR was given the benefit of the doubt. Williams will not appeal that decision nor will they now try to buy out Button's contract. Jenson Button said on several occasions that he wants to drive for Williams but he signed with BAR-Honda and so he must stay with BAR-Honda. There will, no doubt, be another option a year from now and if BAR does not meet the terms of that option (whatever they may be) Button may finally get his wish and go back to Williams.
The moment has passed. If Button goes to Williams in 2006 he will arrive in a team where Mark Webber will be established and it may not be easy for Jenson to go into the team on equal terms, as would have happened this year.
BAR will no doubt rejoice at the victory but at the same time there will have to be questions asked about how it was that Williams lawyers felt there was a case to go with the Button deal. There must have been some loose ends. BAR cannot such things, particularly as the team's entire marketing strategy was built around Button. What is the point of a marketing strategy that is young and cool if the young and cool guy has gone? What BAR will have learned from all this (hopefully) is that the team must be bigger than the individual and that anyone can be replaced.
The nice thing about the Button business is that there does not appear to be much bad feeling between the teams. Both believed that they had a legitimate case and both were willing to spend money to defend their position. Now there is a decision and they can get on with it. If there has been a victim in the Button affair, it is Jenson himself. In the early days of the crisis he did not come out of it very well, disappearing off, his mobile phone turned off, as BAR tried to find out what was going on. Jenson came across as a spoilt brat which is not how he actually is. For this there is no-one to blame but those around him. Button was in F1 at 20 and so, inevitably, has a rather unusual view of the world but those around him should have been grounded enough to have handled the business in a completely different fashion. Jenson remains a fairly simple individual and he does not need the money. What he wants is to win and BAR must now moved ahead of show him that it is capable of doing what it thinks it can do.
The best revenge for Williams will be to win races in 2005.
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