There has been quite a bit of chatter in the last couple of days about Jenson Button’s future, in light of comments made by Brawn GP’s Nick Fry on the subject.
“Jenson’s been with us a long time, and we’ve had failures and we’ve had successes,” said Fry. “My objective, and our objective, is to have him for the rest of his career, and nothing’s changed on that front. It’s mutual that he would like to stay with the team, and after five race wins, we should be able to get something together.”
After five wins from six races and with a seemingly unassailable lead in the championship it is hard to imagine either side thinking about other options. Ross Brawn admitted last year that he was still assessing Button, after being quite impressed by him during the 2004 championship when he and Michael Schumacher raced against him in the BAR Honda. As this season goes on Brawn is increasingly impressed with Button’s ability to pull out a lap time in qualifying and to control races.
Although F1 is a cynical business, it matters all round that Button stayed with the team through the winter even when it meant he was potentially risking his career. The team have rewarded that loyalty with a race winning car and no driver can ask more than that.
But F1 is also a fickle business and a driver who was considered to have ‘flatlined’ in his career is now flavour of the month again and in demand from other teams. Jenson was considered to have plateaued by Ron Dennis and was described as a concrete post by Renault boss Flavio Briatore earlier in the year. He responded by revealing that Flavio had tried to hire him over the winter.
This will have been the period when Flavio was unsure whether Fernando Alonso was going to stay with the team. Alonso had been in quite serious discussions with Honda among others, but decided to stay put in the end.
Jenson signed a new contract with Honda just before the Japanese Grand Prix last year, having been made to sweat on it by the Japanese manufacturer. After the pull out he took a pay cut this year to stay with Brawn and is believed to have signed only a one year deal, but he will have had a pay off from Honda for the unfulfilled contract and will have benefitted from bonuses from the success he’s enjoyed this season.
It is clear that some of the established top teams have been making enquiries about getting him for next year. Button will reflect that at 29 and likely to become world champion this year, it could be the time to maximise his earning potential. Also it will be difficult for Brawn to maintain is pre-eminent position in F1 next year, despite Ross Brawn’s acknowledged brilliance at planning and resource management
There is no need to hurry into a decision, especially with the sport in such a volatile state over the rules for next year but it makes little sense for him to think of moving on to another team. Funding remains an issue for Brawn. They stand to win around $70 million for winning the championship, but they have yet to put any more sponsors on the car apart from the relatively low fee paid by Virgin. He will want some assurances that Brawn is going to pull in the sponsor investment for the medium to long term.
Fry made another interesting comment when he said “I’m sure he (Button) and his manager are sitting there thinking his price is going up the whole time. But maybe the sponsorship for the team is going up too, so maybe we can afford it.”
This seems slightly odd because it is acknowledging that they are going to have to pay him a lot more money because of the results. But you could not have a more graphic illustration of the fact that an F1 driver is only as good as his car than Jenson Button’s last two seasons.
Button staying at Brawn is considered more or less a given in the F1 paddock, but there was some discussion as to who his team mate might be next year. Rubens Barrichello has done well this year at getting the car set up and backing Button up by scoring lots of points. The balance seems pretty good between them but Rubens cannot go on for ever.
There are not too many obvious alternatives, although someone like Timo Glock might fit the bill quite well. However he is known to be on Mercedes hit list for the McLaren team as a possible replacement for Kovalainen.