Formula One
 Friday, March 10
Williams give young Button keys to BMW
By Stephen Wade
Associated Press

 This season, Jenson Button will be the youngest driver -- some say too young -- in Formula One.

The 20-year-old Englishman has come aboard to back up Ralf Schumacher with Williams, a team expected to have teething problems all season with its new BMW engine.

Button will be the youngest Briton ever to start an F1 race when the green flag flies Sunday at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. He also will be the fifth-youngest in F1 history -- too inexperienced in the eyes of former driver Martin Brundle.

Jenson Button
Jenson Button sits in his Williams car. The 20-year-old is out to prove this season he's ready for Formula One.

"He is a talented kid with great ability, that is clear just from talking to people who know him," said Brundle, an F1 commentator. "However, I feel it is too early for him, not just by a season but by two or three years."

In agreement is Jacques Villeneuve, a former series champion and one-time Williams driver now with British American Racing.

"Jenson has no idea what he is letting himself in for," Villeneuve has said.

There already has been one ramification of Button's youth: On arrival Sunday in Australia, he reportedly was denied a rental car because he isn't 25.

Button was an obscure British F3 racer last season, finishing third in the standings. But Frank Williams saw something he liked, and hired Button to replace Alex Zanardi.

Zanardi, the former two-time CART champion, failed to earn a point in 1999. His departure is reported to have cost Williams as much as $6 million on a buyout.

Some have argued this is a perfect spot for Button, driving for a team with few expectations of winning this year. But Williams is hard on drivers. The now-retired Damon Hill was let go right after winning a championship in 1996.

As if to further cloud the picture, Williams is wooing CART Juan Montoya. At 24, the Colombian ace would seem like a graybeard to Button.

But the Englishman seems unfazed to the "too-young" talk.

"I know I'm ready for F1," he said. "If you're good enough, you're old enough."

Button has made the rounds of British talk shows and been a cover boy for some racing magazines. He also has been fodder for the British tabloids, with his girlfriend pledging she won't lose him to F1 groupies.

Like many F1 drivers, Button went out and bought himself a Ferrari with his new six-figure salary. And he won't be in awe of his competition -- not even two-time champion Michael Schumacher.

"From when I was karting, I looked to him as the best F1 driver," Button said. "Once I'm at the circuit I'll treat him as just another competitor. But I can't wait to be on the same grid."

Although Williams and technical director Patrick Head made the decision to hire Button, former F1 driver Gerhard Berger -- who heads BMW's F1 effort -- lent his support. Berger, who stepped up from F3 to F1 in 1984 and won 10 times before retiring after the 1997 season, thinks Button has the potential to match his early success and that Brundle and the late Ayrton Senna.

"The gap was bigger than now," Berger said. "Yet I did it, Ayrton did, and so did Martin. If you're good enough it's not a problem."

Is Button good enough?

"It's difficult to say, but everything he has done so far has made a good impression," Berger said. "If he is talented like we think he is, he's going to do his job right."