JANUARY 10, 2000
Button to Prost - or could it be Williams?
But while the French media seems to think that this deal is already done, there may be other offers in the pipeline for Button. Our spies tell us that Williams is increasingly interested in Button and we have heard recently from German sources that Button was in Munich a few days ago to visit BMW Motorsport boss Gerhard Berger.
Although the BMW Williams team is due to launch its new livery and sponsorship package today (Monday) in Munich we do not expect there to be any news about Ralf Schumacher's team-mate until later in the month and we expect the team to give Button a run before any decision is made. The other major candidate for the drive is believed to be Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, who is currently the Williams test driver.
The team is due to test again at Jerez at the end of this week (January 14-16) using the interim Williams-BMW FW21B and the new FW22 is not expected to appear until the Barcelona testing at the end of the month. The Jerez test would give the team the opportunity to make a decision about drivers before intensive testing with the new car begins.
The problem for Williams is that with Ralf Schumacher and Juan-Pablo Montoya both under long-term contract to the team, there is little to offer Button beyond the end of the year 2000. Having said that Button might agree to a deal which would allow him to race in F1 in 2000 and then return to the team in 2003 after a couple of years elsewhere. This would probably mean that Williams would have to place him elsewhere but the team has already shown that it is willing to do that, having arranged for Montoya to spend a couple of years with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in CART when it was unable to offer him a deal in F1 in 1999. A long-term deal with Button would also be attractive as the team would be able to secure an obvious talent at a cheap price.
Over the Christmas period there were suggestions that Alex Zanardi might be staying with the team for another season. These should be discounted. The Italian and the team are simply involved in a process of settling the separation between them.