<
>

Button's title hopes 'pretty much gone'

5/8/2005

BARCELONA, Spain -- Did Jenson Button know?

Was he aware that his Lucky Strike BAR Honda had two inner tanks tucked inside the
main fuel tank?

"I'm not going to talk about that now," Button said as he faced reporters
in the paddock of the Barcelona circuit on Friday. "All of you have the
information, and I obviously have as much information as anyone else does,
because we've been given everything. So I understand everything that
happens within the car."

BAR's senior staff claimed they thought their system, which left 15 liters
(3.8 gallons) of fuel in the tank after it had been drained, was legal. So
one has to assume that Button believed it was legal, too.

"I completely trust everyone involved," Button said. "I have got
confidence in everyone in the team here, in the technical staff and the
engineers, that we are legit and we will always race to what we think is in
the rules."

The FIA thought otherwise. The bottom line is that once all the fuel had
been drained, the car was underweight.

As punishment, the FIA banned the entire team for two races -- but it's essentially three: Button's third place and Takuma Sato's fifth place in the San Marino Grand Prix have been stripped, and the team has been thrown out of the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.

With zero points in the first six races, Button knows he won't be World
Champion this year.

"You've got to say that our chance of winning the championship is pretty
much gone," he said. "To come back is pretty much impossible, especially
with Renault being so strong in the first few races. And Ferrari will be
strong for the rest of the year."

After three disappointing races with no points to start the 2005 season,
BAR Honda engineers found an amazing 0.8-of-a-second a lap in car
improvements before race four -- the San Marino Grand Prix.

"I was staggered by the step forward that we had made," Button said. "The
engineers were very excited too, and I really thought that we could come to
Barcelona and challenge for a win. So to get here and get the news [that
the FIA had imposed the severe penalties] was a real shock to everyone.
Nobody expected that decision."

What this whole mess will do is insure Button's departure to Williams BMW
in 2006. The deal is that if he has less than 70 percent of the total
points held by the leader in the championship at the end of August, then
Button is free to get out of his BAR contract and join Williams.

"I can't comment if that's true or not, because it's confidential," he
said. "I'm actually not allowed to talk about anything, legally."

Button tried to drive for Williams this year but an arbitration board ruled
that he had to remain at BAR.

Sato and Button hung around the track on Saturday for a while to fulfill
guest appearances for the sponsors.

"We still have a lot of guests here," Button said. "You just can't walk
away. I'm sure they'll be disappointed, but I'm sure they'll understand.
Taku and I will be here for a little while.

"Then I'll probably disappear. I'm going to get straight on to training.
There's a lot going on in my head, so I need to get away and start on
that."

The drivers will also miss F1's crown jewel -- the Monaco Grand Prix.

"That [will] be the tough one, I think, being there and not going out,"
Button said. "It's obviously one of my home GPs. Waking up in my
apartment and there's cars going 'round [without me being in one of them],
it's going to be a little bit weird."

As if all this news wasn't bad enough, Button and fiancée Louise Griffiths
have split after being together for the past five years.

Button finished third in the Drivers Championship last year and BAR Honda
took second in the Constructors Championship. Is he worried that all this
might detract from those accomplishments?

"Well, you could say that if you ... yeah ... it may be that -- if the BAR never
went out on a circuit again," he said. "But as soon as we get to the Nürburgring
people will realize that it's not down to what people think. We are a very
good team and we have a lot of exceptional people working here. We will
prove that when we get to Nürburgring."

The Nürburgring, the track in northern Germany that hosts the European
Grand Prix on May 29, will be where Button, Sato and BAR Honda can
compete again.

"I wouldn't say it's going to be revenge," Button said, "but it would be
great getting to Nürburgring after two races off and showing we are very
strong, that our pace is down to everyone on the team."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.