BAR today (Monday) confirmed that Jenson Button will join the team from 2003. It is not known whether he will partner Jacques Villeneuve or Olivier Panis, although press speculation puts Panis as the most likely to be replaced.
Button has signed a four-year agreement with the Brackley-based team, consisting of an initial two years after which the team will have options for a further two years.
"I'm delighted to welcome Jenson to BAR," team principal David Richards enthused in a press release. "He has an extraordinary talent which now needs to be nurtured in the right environment in order for it to flourish.
"Over the past seven months the management team have set out a long-term plan which is designed to deliver success to BAR and our partners. This won't happen overnight and we have realistic expectations for the next two seasons.
"In the current Formula One™ climate, we are fortunate to have the stability of long-term funding and a strong, developing relationship with Honda.
"Our agreement with Jenson will enable us to carry that stability through to our driver line-up and, as we move forward, I have every confidence that he will play a pivotal role in gelling the team together."
Richards also revealed in a press conference that the outfit has high hopes for Button, who began his F1™ racing career with Williams in 2000, saying: "I am convinced he will be world champion within those four years."
Button also spoke of his delight at the announcement, after a period of intense scrutiny from the press as to what his future might hold. "I'm thrilled to be joining BAR!" he exclaimed. "The past few weeks have been very exciting and I've been flattered by the enormous attention I've received.
"I've had a whole range of opportunities open to me but after careful consideration of what would be best for my future, BAR provided me with an excellent opportunity to progress and ultimately, I hope, to achieve my ambition to be World Champion.
"David Richards has talked me through the long-term strategy for the team in great detail and I have been very impressed with the strength of the partnership with Honda. I have no doubt that, together, we can all look forward to some very exciting times ahead."
Honda also spoke of their pleasure over their partner team's new recruit, seemingly signalling a new period ahead for BAR. The outfit has experienced somewhat mixed fortunes since they entered the sport with a driver line-up of Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta in 1999, and are yet to win a Grand Prix although Villeneuve did manage two third places last year.
Olivier Panis took the place of Zonta for the 2001 season, and stayed on this year after strong drives for the team in an underperforming car. Richards replaced former team principal Craig Pollock last December, and quickly undertook a management shake-up which saw the departure of director of engineering Malcolm Oastler.
Button has spent two years on loan to the Renault team, after he was replaced at Williams by Juan Pablo Montoya. He still has links to the Grove-based team however, which Renault stated as part of the reason for their decision to let him go - as the two drivers they have signed are both contracted to their own driver development programme.
The 22-year-old was hailed as a future champion following an impressive debut year, which saw him qualify as high as third at the Belgian Grand Prix, however his star began to wane a little last season when he was consistently outperformed by his then team mate Giancarlo Fisichella in the difficult B201, in a year that saw Renault ease into Formula One while the team still bore the Benetton name.
This season that turned around however, and Button has managed some impressive performances that have made him hot property in the pit lane once again. To date he has managed five points-scoring finishes for Renault this year, which sees him in seventh place in the Driver's FIA Formula One World Championship™ with eleven points.