Jacques Villeneuve appears to have revised his opinion of former BAR team-mate Jenson Button, claiming that the British driver could take the world title given the right backing.

The Canadian, who began a frustrating season alongside Button by deriding his ability, told the Press Association that he felt the former Williams and Benetton/Renault driver could be a world champion - but that he needed the right team behind him to achieve success.

"Jenson has the potential to be a world champion, but looks to me that he needs to be working with British people," he said in an interview reproduced on his personal website, "He had a good first year at Williams, but then had an awful time at Benetton. However, he has come good again at BAR, and did a solid job for them."

Villeneuve admitted that much of the hyped animosity between himself and Button at the start of 2003 arose from hurt feelings.

"I was suspicious before last season because Jenson was being hyped beyond what he had achieved as a driver," he explained, "He was being hailed as a future world champion as soon as he joined the team, and I thought they should have had a little bit of respect for me, because I had worked my backside off for them for four years.

"Jenson got into the middle of it because he was being told every day by [David] Richards that he would be a world champion. We had a falling-out at the first race in Australia but, after that, we talked, and there was no problem. Since then, we have had a really good relationship. Jenson did a great job for BAR last year, and I have got a lot more respect for him."

Button assumed team leadership at BAR a little earlier than he had anticipated after Villeneuve, disappointed at being replaced by Honda favourite Takuma Sato for 2004, decided not to contest the Japanese Grand Prix, effectively ending his F1 career a race ahead of schedule. Should the Briton win the world crown before the likes of David Coulthard, he would become the first Briton to do so since Damon Hill preceded Villeneuve by winning the title in 1996.

 

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