Jenson Button’s roller coaster ride towards the 2009 world championship is currently being matched for nerve-wracking intensity by the efforts of his manager, the congenial Richard Goddard, to prise more money out of the Brawn GP team for next season.
Last winter, with the former Honda team’s future clouded by uncertainty after the Japanese car maker took the decision to withdraw from the sport, Button took a significant pay cut to “do his bit” in guaranteeing that the team would be on the grid in 2010.
If some observers are to be believed, his pay was slashed by 50 per cent to around $5m – and he agreed to pay his own expenses. The Button camp now feels that their man has done enough and, after winning six of the first seven races this season, has politely asked the management if they could revert to something a bit nearer his originally agreed terms.
Don’t get me wrong here; there is no suggestion that the Jenson camp is trying to hold a gun to Brawn’s head. They are just negotiating vigorously with each side fighting their own corner with some determination.
In reality, of course, the glory days of sky-high driver retainers have been long consigned to history. With the Honda support for Brawn expiring at the end of the year, the team is poised to become what might be described as a “conventional” commercial enterprise. And the down-to-earth, pragmatic Ross is not going to pay top dollar for any driver if it risks trimming the budget for design, development and engineering.
Button and Brawn have been great for each other this year and, at the end of the day, will probably end up cutting a deal. But, while logic also suggests that it makes perfect logical sense to keep Rubens Barrichello on the payroll, it’s possible he could find an alternative berth with Williams with Nico Rosberg pleasing Mercedes by taking the place alongside Jenson.
Rosberg was also tipped for McLaren, but it seems that moment has now passed and the seat alongside Lewis Hamilton will either be filled by the current incumbent, Heikki Kovalainen, or 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Kimster, aka The Mute One from the Arctic Wastes, has a great fan base at McLaren and it will certainly suit Ferrari who want to terminate his contract a year early to accommodate a Fernando Alonso/Felipe Massa super-team, assuming that the popular Brazilian makes a full recovery from those head injuries he sustained in Hungary this year.
Other teams? Well, let’s think. WILLIAMS (Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg); RENAULT (Robert Kubica and Romain Grosjean); SAUBER (Nick Heidfeld and TBN); FORCE INDIA (Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi); RED BULL and TORO ROSSO (unchanged); TOYOTA (Timo Glock and TBN). Then, of course, there are the four incoming teams although it’s too early to say who will be lining up in the queue to drive for them.