Williams Buttons Up Whiz Kid to Replace Zanardi

WILLIAMS BUTTONS UP WHIZ KID TO REPLACE ZANARDI BAR confident that new car can erase nightmare of '99 INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2000 - Two Formula One teams unveiled their 2000 cars Jan. 24, and one of those teams named a rookie...

WILLIAMS BUTTONS UP WHIZ KID TO REPLACE ZANARDI BAR confident that new car can erase nightmare of '99

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2000 - Two Formula One teams unveiled their 2000 cars Jan. 24, and one of those teams named a rookie sensation as its driver for this season.

Williams-BMW launched its new car at Spain's Barcelona circuit and announced that it had signed Britain's Jenson Button, who has just turned 20, as the driver who will replace Alex Zanardi.

Meanwhile in central London, just a block away from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Lucky Strike British American Racing unveiled its new Honda-powered car that will be driven by Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta in the 2000 Formula One World Championship, including the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24.

Button and Brazil's Bruno Junqueira had been involved in a tense shootout for the Williams seat that was not settled until the night before the announcement was made. On the final day of testing, Button was faster than Junqueira by .16 of a second. In the end, Williams signed Button as Ralf Schumacher's teammate and nominated Junqueira as its test driver.

"We wanted to give both drivers as much running as possible before we made the decision," team owner Frank Williams said. "They could have had more running but, by the smallest of margins, we decided to go for Jenson because we feel that over the long term he has truly vast potential."

Button's rise to the top has been swift, indeed. He began his career in karts and only graduated to cars in 1998 when he drove in Britain's competitive Formula Ford series. Last year he competed in the British Formula 3 championship and placed third in the points.

"I think I am still on cloud nine at the moment," said a delighted Button. "It's an amazing feeling being part of the BMW WilliamsF1 package."

Should he win in the next two seasons, Button will enter the record books as the youngest driver ever to score a Grand Prix victory. Bruce McLaren holds that record. He was 22 years and 104 days old when he won the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring. Although the Indianapolis 500 was technically a round of the Formula One World Championship from 1950 to 1960, the race at Sebring is considered to be the first true Grand Prix in the United States.

Button replaces two-time CART champion Zanardi. Williams announced Jan. 21 that Zanardi would not be back for what should have been his second contracted year with the team.

Williams-BMW also announced its new principal sponsor - the Compaq Computer Corporation. The car is white with dark blue accents - BMW's racing colors - and carries the Compaq name, also in blue, on the sidepods.

The new car, model number FW22, that Ralf Schumacher and Button will drive this season, was created by chief designer Gavin Fisher and chief aerodynamicist Geoff Willis.

"The philosophy behind the FW22 has been one of intelligent design evolution rather than revolution," Fisher said. "Although our final championship position last year was somewhat short of what we had hoped, there were some specific performances which showed that the basic principles of the car were based on solid foundations. There are no substantial regulation changes this year, but we are beginning a new era with BMW. A new engine brings new problems that require new solutions."

For British American Racing, the solution for the 2000 season is simple: improve dramatically on its performance in its rookie 1999 season when it failed to score a single point.

"I expect great things," Villeneuve said at the launch of the BAR-Honda. "The goal of everybody at Honda, BAR and myself has to be to win. That is the only goal that we can have.

"I didn't get into racing not to fight and to win, and I didn't get into this team not to fight and to win. Hopefully we will win because it is difficult to put in so much effort and not see any results." The team is on the upswing, said BAR managing director Craig Pollock.

"We have learned from our mistakes," Pollock said. "The positive thing is that we are working better as a team and we have put our mistakes behind us."

"You have four or five teams that are going to be capable of winning races and being on the podium: McLaren, Ferrari, Jordan and Jaguar. And what we have to do is try to be up there with them. The racing this year is going to be superb because everybody is far closer together. We saw that at the end of the season, and everybody has been working hard over the winter. It is going to be very difficult for is at the start. We have to aim to get up close to Jaguar and Jordan because they will be right behind McLaren and Ferrari."

Last year the BAR's carried a dual sponsorship livery with half the car painted the dark blue of its 555 sponsors and half the car painted in the red and white of its Lucky Strike sponsor. This year the car carries only the Lucky Strike livery.

While this marked the first time the new BAR was shown in public, it has been at the test track, where it has been running reliably.

"We have learned a lot," said BAR's technical director Adrian Reynard. "We started from scratch and built the team up over 18 months. The encouraging thing is that the car is more reliable, but none of us are accepting that as good enough."

Villeneuve concurred, "We are not quick enough yet."

The BAR F1 car was designed by Malcolm Oastler, who also designs the Reynards that dominate in the CART championship. While the BAR 02 doesn't look much different from last year's 01, Oastler said only 10 percent of parts of the old car were carried over to the new one.

"The differences are subtle," Oastler said. "They are not dramatic, visual differences. But when you change the monocoque, change the gearbox and change the engine, it changes most of the car. We looked for our major performance gains in aerodynamics and in horsepower."

Both BAR and Williams start the season with new engines. BMW is back in F1, which it also took part in Grand Prix racing from 1982-87. This marks Honda' s third stint in F1, as it also raced from 1964-68 and 1983-92.

While both companies are involved in F1 for the obvious technical and commercial benefits, Honda's F1 R&D project leader summed it up this way when asked why Honda was returning to F1, "We are back in Formula One because we love racing!"


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Zanardi , Bruce McLaren , Frank Williams , Geoff Willis
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing , Jordan