Britain's last Formula One world champion, Damon Hill, has claimed that Jenson Button - the man most likely to succeed him - just isn't mad enough, and that the 'frightening normal' BAR driver could be held back by a lack of madness.

"If you look at past world champions, they are all bonkers, basically. I was a bit nutty, too. But Jenson? He's just so even tempered and takes everything in his stride," Hill told Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper. "If I had any reservations about him as a driver it would be that he is not bonkers enough.

"I wanted to win the championship so badly," continued the 1996 world champ. "It is neither normal or particularly healthy to want to win as badly as I did. I had my reasons, no doubt connected in some way to my father, etc. When I look at Jenson, he appears frighteningly normal. I mean he is getting married, for goodness sake."

When asked about Hill's comments, Button pointed out that just being an F1 driver isn't the sanest of professions, while also questioning if madness is particularly productive.

"Maybe the fact that I don't lose it all the time is a strength not a weakness," Jenson told the paper.

Indeed, Button has little reason to question his approach to racing, the 24-year-old having delivered a head-turning 2003 season that saw him return to the ranks of future star, after some questionable performances with previous employer Renault.

The season not only saw him earn the respect of team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, after the French-Canadian had publicly doubted his ability, but also emerge as a contender for a return to Williams - the team that gave him his F1 break - when Juan-Pablo Montoya moves to McLaren.

"I feel I have made progress," said Button of 2003. "And it was nice of Jacques to say the things he did. The team has improved, too. Having tested the interim 2004 car the results look positive. I believe we should be good enough to go for podiums and even race wins this year.

"Of course people are going to speculate (about a return to Williams in 2005)," he added. "There is a seat available. But it does not mean anything to me. I can't worry about that... I'm contracted to BAR and that is where I am happy. I'm focused on doing well for them. It is an important year for me and the team. We are looking forward to making a great leap forward."

Button will be joined at BAR Honda by new team-mate Takuma Sato in 2004.



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