Jenson Button has emerged as a possible contender to partner Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010, if they fail to lure back former driver Kimi Räikkönen.
Just days after Button claimed his first world championship, several British newspapers carried the story that the world champion could leave Brawn unless they agree to meet his wage demands, meaning McLaren returning the illustrious No. 1 on one of their cars for a second consecutive season.
With just one race of the season left, silly season has gone into overdrive for next year’s race seats, with both Räikkönen and Button’s wage demands the ultimate decider as to where a number of drivers could end up next year.
It is well documented that Button took a huge pay cut to drive for Brawn this season, after Honda pulled out of the sport, and having secured the world championship at the last race in Brazil, he is right to command a lot more to drive for any team next year.
If reports are to believed, Button’s wages went from £10m under Honda to just £3m for the 2009 season, and nobody would expect Button to remain with Brawn if they were not prepared to triple his wages.
It puts Team Principal Ross Brawn in a difficult position for next season despite rumours that Mercedes are set to take a 70% stake in the team, and reduce their control at McLaren—one of the paddock’s worst-kept secrets this season.
The rumours of a Button move are a nudge from McLaren to Räikkönen to make up his mind between returning to them and accepting a drive with perennial strugglers Toyota, who have spent a fortune, but failed to win a race since they joined the sport in 2002, while Brawn will be forced to up their game and improve Button's contract for 2010 if they don't want to lose their No. 1 driver.
It’s hard to deny that for McLaren to have two British world champions driving for them would be something very special. With £60m in funding alone coming from their title sponsorship deal with Vodafone, Button’s wages would not be a problem, and a fraction of what they’d have to pay Räikkönen.
Not only that, but Button would be part of a very secure, and well-financed organisation that could easily outbid Brawn in a bidding war.
For Button, he must decide whether he should be loyal to a team he has been with for seven years, or try to further his career with a team who will shower him with sponsorship opportunities including telecommunications giant Vodafone, and Spanish bank Santander, and of course, give him more of a chance of winning further titles, despite its focus on Hamilton.
After spending the majority of his Formula 1 career at one team through its incarnations as BAR, Honda, and now Brawn, it could be the positive step forward in his career that he has not yet had, and possibly his last opportunity to move to one of the sport’s “big” teams.
Along with Rubens Barrichello, and a fantastic support team, he has delivered what nobody expected them to do, and saved the careers of almost 100 people at the same time. He’s certainly done his time with the team going back to 2002, and perhaps deserves the opportunity to move after the infamous contract dispute of 2004.
In the wake of the reports, Mercedes’ Norbert Haug said there were no “current negotiations” and described the speculation as an “English dream” while McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh would only admit that they “have talked to a number of drivers,” believed to be Räikkönen, BMW driver Nick Heidfeld, and Hamilton’s current team mate Heikki Kovalainen.
With a week to go until the final race of the season, the rumours will only intensify until the ink has dried on the final race seat contract, whenever that may be.