Formula 1 17 Jul 2006 07:33 am

Jenson Button: oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

Last year, Jenson Button was a Formula 1 star on the wax, and it looked like the team he was driving for at the time (BAR-Honda) was on a similar trajectory.

But Jenson was (he thought) looking at a troubled future.

In 2004, Button reckoned that Williams would be the place to be for 2005 and beyond. He signed a contract with Williams to drive for them in the 2005 season and, when the word leaked, kicked off an enormous brouhaha. BAR-Honda was absolutely convinced that they had a contract with the British wonder-boy for 2005, and took the matter to F1’s Contracts Recognition Board. BAR-Honda won the case (for 2005), and Jenson’s short term future was cast in cement.

What wasn’t widely acknowledged at the time was that the CRB recognised that while Williams couldn’t have Jenson in 2005, the arrangement giving them first dibs over his services for 2006 would stand.

So the situation for 2005 was:
* Button would drive for BAR-Honda after expressing a desire to be with Williams instead
* BAR-Honda committed themselves to spending the 2005 season convincing Button that it would be better for him to stay with them in 2006 (when Honda would take full ownership of the team).

Which is just exactly what happened. BAR-Honda scored some great results in the first half of 2005 (but no wins). Jenson was made to feel loved. He learned that Williams had lost its BMW engines for 2006 and beyond. Jenson wanted to stay with the fast-emerging Honda team.

What to do?

Jenson let it be known that he didn’t want to be bound to his agreement with Williams (remember, Williams had a contract for his services in 2006). He tried to persuade Frank Williams that it would not be good to have someone in the team who didn’t really want to be there.

But Frank is a canny operator, and he knew that Jenson would be a valuable sponsor-attractor for WilliamsF1 (in a year when sponsors would be hard to find, without a factory engine deal). Frank played hard ball. It’s all documented here.

In the end,
* Jenson and Honda paid Frank a lot of money (rumoured to be $US30m) to buy out the commitment to WilliamsF1
* Jenson signed a long term agreement with Honda (rumoured to be for 5 years).

How Jenson must be regretting the way things have turned out!

2006 is unfolding as a terrible year for Honda, and for Jenson.
* Jenson lies seventh in the championship, on 16 points (Alonso leads on 96 points).
* Jenson hasn’t been on the podium for the last 9 races.
* Jenson has only finished one of the last four races.
* Jenson has only scored points in four of the eleven races held so far this year.
* There are no signs of an imminent return to form.

And he is stuck! There are good drives aplenty available for 2007, but Jenson can’t get one as he is contracted to Honda for years to come.
* Raikkonen is apparently leaving McLaren (for Ferrari), and Montoya has already gone. There appears to be a seat vacant at McLaren for 2007, but Jenson can’t be considered for it.
* Alonso is leaving Renault (for McLaren). His plumb seat is available, but Jenson can’t be considered for it.
* If Michael Schumacher decides to hang up his gloves at the end of the season, there may even be a seat at Ferrari available, but… well, you know the story.

If only Jenson had taken the Williams option for 2006. By all accounts, it was only a one-year deal, which would have left Jenson a free agent right now, when there are more good seats available than at any time in recent history.

Oh well, you makes your bed and you must lie in it.

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