Uncertain times for Irvine and Button
The British GP promises to be a key race for Jenson Button and Eddie Irvine as neither driver knows, or at least is not letting on yet, where he will be next season and Silverstone could have a big say in the outcome.
Button could find himself driving for a different team next year while Irvine may not be back at
Renault say they will not announce their 2003 driver line-up until after Silverstone, although
insiders insist that the 22-year-old Button is set to be replaced by young Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
Irvine, whose big-money contract with Jaguar ends this year and whose job could be offered to
Button, is waiting to see how the revised R3 car shapes up before he makes decisions about the
future. The odds are that this will be the colourful and outspoken Northern Irishman's last home
race before the pit lane playboy, who turns 37 in November, calls it a day.
"I am not interested in just participating in Formula One," said Irvine, who has won
four grands prix in his career. "I have pretty much proved that to myself after a ridiculous
start to the year. I don't need money, I want results. I won't make the mistake of staying around
too long. I won't do that because I have the guts to walk out halfway through. I am not going to do
a Damon (Hill) and hang around for the final cheque."
Britain's Hill, world champion in 1996 and the winner of 22 grands prix, raced until he was 38.
The Jaguar R3, unveiled in January and presented as the first "real" Jaguar Formula One
car, has turned out to be more of a toothless dog than a Big Cat showing its claws. Irvine's
performance in the revised, aerodynamically modified, version will be eagerly awaited but he faces a
double-edged sword. If the car is good, others such as Button will find driving for the Ford-owned
team a far more attractive proposition. If it is not, Irvine will not want to contemplate another
grim season of struggle. He tested the revised R3 last Thursday in Barcelona and set the slowest
time of the day, although he said he had not been given enough time to prove anything. The proof
will come at Silverstone.
"If this car comes out of the box and flies, I'm going to want to stay in Formula One,"
Irvine said at the last race at Germany's Nürburgring. "If it doesn't, it doesn't really bode
well for the future does it? But I'm not thinking about doesn't. I'm thinking will. I'm thinking
this package is going to be good, we're going to turn up there and surprise people, and we're going
to enjoy surprising people. If you look where Benetton came from at the beginning of last year to
where they ended up, we have the potential to achieve that."
Button was in the Benetton, now Renault, last season when he hit a personal performance trough
after impressing in his first year with Williams. He has looked far more at ease in 2002, and was
considered a certainty to stay at Renault until the European Grand Prix when paddock gossip became
insistent that he would be leaving. The Englishman went through the rumour mill last year as well,
when people were saying he was on his way out of Formula One. This time at least he appears
confident of landing another top job if Renault do let him go, with the whispers linking him to
Jaguar and Toyota.
"All these rumours don't affect me," he said at the Nürburgring however. "I have
no problem with them. It's not a distraction, it's enjoyable and quite good fun because it is all
speculation. I am not worried about where I am going to be next year because I think I will be with
a competitive team. I am not in the worst position in F1 as a driver. I am looking forward to
Silverstone big time," added the Briton who scored his first real points at the circuit in 2000
after being gifted one earlier in Brazil when McLaren's David Coulthard was disqualified.
His fifth place for Williams, as a 20-year-old in only his fourth race and in front of his home
fans, still ranks as a real high. His aim now is to finish in the top three for the first time in
his career. It would certainly add to his market value at a key moment.
"It's my favourite grand prix and it will be good to have the supporters behind me...It
would be great to get that first podium at Silverstone," he said.
By Alan Baldwin