SEPTEMBER 7, 2001
Watch my lips, no new drivers. Well, not until next year. Perhaps!
ALL the warning lights will have flashed on for Jenson Button and his management team this week after Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore warned that the young British driver needs "to pull himself together" in the wake of a disappointing Belgian GP outing where he crashed on the same afternoon as team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella finished a strong third.
Those used to interpreting such F1 semantics believe that Briatore's words amount to a warning to Button who still yet might be switched from the Benetton squad next season. It is possible that the 21-year old could end up at Prost or even in the Sauber-Ferrari camp if Kimi Raikkonen is recruited as test driver for the McLaren-Mercedes team.
Renault Sport boss Patrick Faure has sought to allay Button's apprehension by reasserting that there are no plans to replace him. "At the moment we have Jarno Trulli and Jenson for next year," he said over the Spa weekend.
Nevertheless, it is known that Briatore is keen on promoting 20-year old Spaniard Fernando Alonso whom his management company has under contract. Alonso tested for Benetton last winter with impressive results and there is speculation that he is the man Briatore would like to place alongside Trulli next season.
Button, of course, is sub-contracted to Benetton from the BMW Williams which retains an option on his services for the 2003 season. However Williams insiders are certain there will be no way back into the team for Button as long as the current pairing of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya remain on the books. So the long-term outlook seems less than promising for the man once touted - by some - as the next Michael Schumacher.