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Hill: 'Jenson top of the class of 2000'

Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, rates Formula 1 new boy Jenson Button as the most impressive driver of the 2000 season

Hill exclusively rates his top five drivers in Autosport's Grand Prix Review 2000 and puts the Williams rookie ahead of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.

"Though Mika and Michael are the two best drivers in F1, without question," said Hill, "Jenson gets my prize for the year because he overcame more obstacles than anyone else did.

"In all the pre-season hype, some people made thinly-veiled attempts to snuff out his confidence with their 'it's all too soon' talk. He didn't have much testing, he had no Formula 3000 experience, didn't know the circuits and was being thrust into the limelight. Yet the pressure never showed. Either Jenson's like a bumblebee - totally unaware of what he's doing - or he just knows what he's doing."

Button finished eighth overall in the final standings, taking a best result of fourth at the German Grand Prix, but always knew that however well he performed, his place at Williams would be taken by Champ Car sensation Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001.

" Not only did he have to cope with all the hype," said Hill, "but by mid-season Jenson had his drive on the line, with all the nonsense that entails. How does it feel to be F1's darling one second and like something stuck to the bottom of somebody's shoe the next? Yet he's comethrough it all.

"Certain people have the make-up necessary to be able to step into F1 with the ease of someone just stepping out of their back door. Jenson falls into this category. He accepts he's going to make mistakes, that it's early days, and he doesn't get all screwed up when it goes wrong. He had a quick team mate in Ralf Schumacher, but there wasn't much to choose between them by year's end."

Button moves to Benetton for 2001, but could be back with Williams in 2003 if the team takes up the remainder of its five-year option on the 20-year-old. Hill, who took his '96 world title with Williams, believes Button will go all the way too.

"Clearly he has what it takes to be an F1 World Champion," he said. "It's only a matter of time..."

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