Button close to 2001 Benetton deal

Jenson Button could partner Jacques Villeneuve in the Benetton team for 2001

Button close to 2001 Benetton deal

According to Autosport magazine, Button's management team has been in talks with Benetton as team boss Flavio Briatore attempts to revive the fortunes of the Enstone-based squad after several lacklustre seasons.

With Champ Car sensation Juan Pablo Montoya set to take over his Williams drive next year, the young Brit is looking for an alternative seat and sources say the Benetton deal is close to being finalised.

Briatore is said to have first option on Button's services and Benetton's new owner Renault is thought to have pushed for the team to sign him.

However, Williams has Button on a five-year contract and is expected to take him back into the fold after the 20-year-old has had time to develop with another team - Benetton fits that bill perfectly.

With the Formula 1 'silly season' reaching fever pitch, Villeneuve remains key to the whole driver merry-go-round and has been linked to Benetton for a number of weeks. Signing the '97 champion would bring a wealth of race-winning experience to the team, but the Canadian remains undecided on his future, despite paddock sources claiming a deal has already been reached with Renault.

Briatore admits that 2001 will be a building season and Villeneuve must weigh that against potentially reaping the rewards after enduring two winless development seasons with BAR-Honda.

Benetton's current drivers will have to make way for the new signings if they are to go ahead.

Alex Wurz has yet to score a point this season and continues to be out-paced by Fisichella. Rumours that the Austrian will be ousted before the end of the season have been denied by the team, but his longer-term future remains in considerable doubt.

As for the Italian, he recently stated his desire to stay at Benetton, but has been told by the team that he is free to negotiate with other teams - a less than subtle hint from master politician Briatore?

Fisichella is believed to have been approached by Jaguar, which could afford the 27-year-old's £6 million retainer, but that situation is further complicated by Dario Franchitti currently holding pole position as most likely replacement for Johnny Herbert.

The 'silly season' also links McLaren test driver Olivier Panis with BAR, regardless of Villeneuve's decision. The Frenchman is keen to get back into a full-time drive, his testing skills have been finely-honed at McLaren and he would be a valuable addition in the team's quest to break into the ranks of potential race-winners.

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