Print and Go Back ESPN.com: FormulaOne [Print without images]

Saturday, May 7, 2005
Updated: May 8, 3:04 AM ET
Button's title hopes 'pretty much gone'

By Dan Knutson
Special to ESPN.com

BARCELONA, Spain -- Did Jenson Button know?

Was he aware that his Lucky Strike BAR Honda had two inner tanks tucked inside the main fuel tank?

"I'm not going to talk about that now," Button said as he faced reporters in the paddock of the Barcelona circuit on Friday. "All of you have the information, and I obviously have as much information as anyone else does, because we've been given everything. So I understand everything that happens within the car."

BAR's senior staff claimed they thought their system, which left 15 liters (3.8 gallons) of fuel in the tank after it had been drained, was legal. So one has to assume that Button believed it was legal, too.

"I completely trust everyone involved," Button said. "I have got confidence in everyone in the team here, in the technical staff and the engineers, that we are legit and we will always race to what we think is in the rules."

The FIA thought otherwise. The bottom line is that once all the fuel had been drained, the car was underweight.

As punishment, the FIA banned the entire team for two races -- but it's essentially three: Button's third place and Takuma Sato's fifth place in the San Marino Grand Prix have been stripped, and the team has been thrown out of the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.

With zero points in the first six races, Button knows he won't be World Champion this year.

"You've got to say that our chance of winning the championship is pretty much gone," he said. "To come back is pretty much impossible, especially with Renault being so strong in the first few races. And Ferrari will be strong for the rest of the year."

After three disappointing races with no points to start the 2005 season, BAR Honda engineers found an amazing 0.8-of-a-second a lap in car improvements before race four -- the San Marino Grand Prix.

"I was staggered by the step forward that we had made," Button said. "The engineers were very excited too, and I really thought that we could come to Barcelona and challenge for a win. So to get here and get the news [that the FIA had imposed the severe penalties] was a real shock to everyone. Nobody expected that decision."

What this whole mess will do is insure Button's departure to Williams BMW in 2006. The deal is that if he has less than 70 percent of the total points held by the leader in the championship at the end of August, then Button is free to get out of his BAR contract and join Williams.

"I can't comment if that's true or not, because it's confidential," he said. "I'm actually not allowed to talk about anything, legally."

Button tried to drive for Williams this year but an arbitration board ruled that he had to remain at BAR.

Sato and Button hung around the track on Saturday for a while to fulfill guest appearances for the sponsors.

"We still have a lot of guests here," Button said. "You just can't walk away. I'm sure they'll be disappointed, but I'm sure they'll understand. Taku and I will be here for a little while.

"Then I'll probably disappear. I'm going to get straight on to training. There's a lot going on in my head, so I need to get away and start on that."

The drivers will also miss F1's crown jewel -- the Monaco Grand Prix.

"That [will] be the tough one, I think, being there and not going out," Button said. "It's obviously one of my home GPs. Waking up in my apartment and there's cars going 'round [without me being in one of them], it's going to be a little bit weird."

As if all this news wasn't bad enough, Button and fiancée Louise Griffiths have split after being together for the past five years.

Button finished third in the Drivers Championship last year and BAR Honda took second in the Constructors Championship. Is he worried that all this might detract from those accomplishments?

"Well, you could say that if you ... yeah ... it may be that -- if the BAR never went out on a circuit again," he said. "But as soon as we get to the Nürburgring people will realize that it's not down to what people think. We are a very good team and we have a lot of exceptional people working here. We will prove that when we get to Nürburgring."

The Nürburgring, the track in northern Germany that hosts the European Grand Prix on May 29, will be where Button, Sato and BAR Honda can compete again.

"I wouldn't say it's going to be revenge," Button said, "but it would be great getting to Nürburgring after two races off and showing we are very strong, that our pace is down to everyone on the team."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.