After weeks of waiting and speculation, the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) ruled on October 20th that BAR's contract with Jenson Button is valid. Williams announced in August that Button had signed to drive for the team in 2005 but BAR immediately countered by claiming it had already renewed its own contract with the Englishman.
The matter was referred to the CRB after behind-the-scenes negotiations failed to resolve the situation. Legal representatives for both teams presented their cases to the CRB in Milan on October 16th and the verdict that Button is signed to BAR was delivered on Wednesday.
"BAR has expressed delight at the confirmation today from the Contract Recognition Board that BAR's contract with Jenson Button is the only valid contract for 2005," said a statement from the team.
"Jenson has played a crucial role in BAR's success over the past two seasons, particularly this year when BAR is hopeful of finishing 2nd in the 2004 Constructors' Championship."
Williams believed it could take up a previous option on Button because Honda had not committed to supplying BAR with engines in 2005, which gave Button the opportunity to leave. BAR argued that Honda had every intention of continuing its deal with the team.
Williams confirmed in a statement that it acknowledged the decision of the CRB and would not take any further action. "Naturally we are disappointed with the CRB's conclusion," said team principal Frank Williams.
"We took the view that Jenson was a driver worth challenging for, and based on strong legal advice we have no regrets about making a bid for his services. The CRB accepted a significant number of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team's arguments, but nevertheless found against us."
"We do not believe any further legal action in relation to this matter to be in the broader interests of the sport. In spite of the CRB's conclusion, which relates to 2005, we will maintain our close relationship with Jenson for 2006."
Button also agreed to accept the decision but reiterated his intention to race for Williams at a later date: "Naturally I am disappointed by the ruling, but as a matter of principle, I firmly believe in standing by the decision the CRB have reached today," he said.
"BAR have been extremely professional at the race track during this process, and I expect this to continue. I look forward to joining the BMW WilliamsF1 Team in the future."
It has been rumoured recently that Button would refuse to drive for BAR in 2005 if the CRB found in his current team's favour. But it seems unlikely that Jenson would take the option not to race at all next year, which would be his only other choice -- unless BAR releases him from his contract, which also seems unlikely.
For the moment, Williams needs to find a driver to partner Mark Webber for 2005. Team tester Antonio Pizzonia is speculated to be the favourite after his performances when standing in for Ralf Schumacher in races this season. BAR third driver Anthony Davidson has been linked to Williams, while David Coulthard is also looking for a seat for 2005. We will have to wait and see...