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Benetton-Renault driver Jenson Button has sent out a message to his doubters, including Jaguar's Eddie Irvine, that he will be back among the big boys next season. Jaguar driver Eddie Irvine’s recent derogatory comments concerning Jenson ...

Benetton-Renault driver Jenson Button has sent out a message to his doubters, including Jaguar's Eddie Irvine, that he will be back among the big boys next season. Jaguar driver Eddie Irvine’s recent derogatory comments concerning Jenson Button’s performance with Benetton this year seem not to have gone unheeded by the 21-year-old Brit. 

Irvine suggested that team boss Flavio Briatore should have held on to Giancarlo Fisichella – who is returning to the Jordan team – rather than keep Button, whose second year in Formula 1 has been a disappointment.  Irvine said that Benetton should have rid itself of Button after he failed to produce anything special in the B201 this year. Button has indeed struggled this season in what has been a difficult switch from the top-class outfit of Williams to the languishing Benetton team. "Jenson Button, you are the weakest link…Goodbye," Irvine scoffed. 

But a renaissance within the team, which will be renamed Renault in 2002, seemed to be on the cards during the latter part of the season and Button is in no doubt that he can carry that momentum through to 2002 and be up with the best of them. Button, who finished 17th in the world drivers’ championship, has vowed to fight back and prove that his successful rookie year at BMW Williams in 2000 where he came eighth in the final standings, was no flash in the pan.

Talking to the UK newspaper Sunday Mirror, he acknowledged that the past season had not been a productive one but was as much to do with the unreliability of his car as it had his own ability to adjust to a new team and its way of working.

"I’ve got a message for all those people who wrote me off as a one-season wonder,’ he warned. ‘Watch out, because next season I will be back among the leaders. If we continue to make the sort of progress you have seen in the last few races of this season, it is not unrealistic to aim for pole position on the grid at Silverstone for the British GP. That would be a suitable reward for all those people who have stood by me during the tough times."

Button was also positive about his sometimes difficult relationship with the quick tempered Italian Benetton boss, Briatore. "I was with Renault in France last week working on a number of things and everything is looking pretty good," he said. "Flavio can be a bit difficult at times but we get on fine. He had a smile on his face after the race in Japan, so he must have been reasonably happy!"

Benetton boss Flavio Bristore has openly criticised his charge during a season in which the Briton was out-classed by team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. But Button insists him and his boss have a good relationship: on more than one occasion Briatore, the man brought in to smooth the edges of the team’s transition into a full blown Renault owned outfit for next year, has given Button his support and has publicly praised him for his recent performance in finally equalling Fisichella’s feat by ending the season with a 7th place, 10 ahead of his team mate, in the final race at Suzuka.

"Ending the season on a high note in Japan was essential because it is a long winter and you have to end the season with positive thoughts," added Button. "So to get my best grid position of the season provided the perfect ending. The season may have ended in Japan last weekend but we are already working hard in preparation for next year."

On his team mates, Button expressed his sadness to farewell Fisichella, whom he shared a successful relationship with, and was cautious when commenting on future partner Jarno Trulli, who he has had on-track scuffles with over the past year. 

"We (Fisichella and I) got on pretty well and I learned a lot from him," said Button, and then jokingly added, "but he is too bloody quick so it’s good to get rid of him! I’ve had a couple of run-ins with Jarno in the last two seasons but everything is cool between us and I am sure he will be a formidable team mate."

Mike Gascoyne, Benetton’s Technical Director, whilst never one to question Briatore’s decisions, thinks that although Trulli’s qualifying times may be better, in race mode Fisichella would be a hard man to beat.

"Giancarlo did an absolutely fantastic job," he said. "I simply can’t praise him highly enough. His sixth place in Brazil was worth its weight in gold (Benetton took the 7th slot in the championship, equalling Jaguar’s points but by having more higher place finishes took the higher position). He carried us when we were down and, when things began to look up, at Spa he never put a wheel wrong on his run to third place."

"Either way, they are both potential winners and I can't think what McLaren was doing failing to consider them for next season (McLaren signed Kimi Raikkonen as a replacement for the semi-retired Mika Hakkinen)."

It is therefore clear that while Button had the somewhat reserved support of Briatore, he was fighting Gascoyne’s preferences for Fisichella with whom he has been working since 1998 when they were both at Jordan.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Kimi Raikkonen , Flavio Briatore , Mike Gascoyne
Teams McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Jordan