Jenson Button losing his 2001 seat at Williams to Champ Car ace Juan Pablo Montoya was perhaps one of the worst kept secrets of the year. By the time the deal was formally announced at Indianapolis on the Thursday before the United States Grand Prix, every man and his dog new Button was out - but the story had broken months before in Autosport in its June 8 issue.
Button made a stunning impression in his first year in Formula 1, notching up 12 world championship points and out-qualifying team mate Ralf Schumacher five times. Impressive, maybe, but it was not enough to hold onto his Williams seat for 2001.
During a head-to-head shoot-out with Bruno Junqueira at the Jerez circuit in Spain back in January, Button had immediately impressed Williams technical director Patrick Head and the drive was his. The 'boy wonder' had arrived and he did not disappoint. A fight from 21st on the grid up to sixth place on his debut in Melbourne was cut short by engine trouble, but the spirited drive set the tone for the season.
Seven Grands Prix later and things were not looking so rosy as Montoya was firmly in the picture and Sir Frank Williams was set to drop one of his drivers for the third time in five years. Button was to follow in the footsteps of Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell before him, but then the 20-year-old was under no illusions. Never one to afford complacency in his drivers, Sir Frank had said all along that Button would have to work very hard to keep Montoya out in 2001.
Only slightly perturbed, Button continued from where he set off and went on to produce a superb third place on the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix on the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit and an impressive fifth place at Suzuka.
Just one week after Autosport broke the news, Button looked to have secured another berth for 2001 with Benetton. Possibilities included Jaguar, which was put off by the young Brit's five-year contract with Williams, Jordan and last resort Prost. But the Button-Benetton marriage was done as a two-year loan, after which he will likely return to Williams to partner Montoya creating what is expected to be a pretty formidable pairing.
WHAT THEY SAID...
A Williams insider: "Everyone has been writing that Frank and Patrick are looking for someone who can run Ralf close. That's rubbish. They're looking for someone who can blow him away. That might or might not be Montoya."
Sir Frank Williams on Jenson Button: "He's always in total control of himself, in the car and out of it. Super-calm. It's all very impressive."
Sir Frank Williams on Juan Pablo Montoya: "Juan is a talented quick driver. Bloody impressive at Elkhart Lake wasn't he? Big balls track that."
Patrick Head on choosing Button over Junqueira: "Instantly, on a track Jenson had never seen before, he was very quick and in the end we had to go for him."
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