There has been a lot of talk this week about Jenson Button’s contract talks with the Brawn team. Proving what an unsentimental business this is, the champagne soaked clothes are barely back from the dry cleaners and both sides are publicly playing hardball. It’s a question of who needs who the most.
The team have come through a lot together. It was really noticeable on the day the titles were clinched in Brazil that Ross Brawn’s first thoughts were for the employees he had been forced to let go when the team downsized from 700 to 450 in April.
Equally, Button was singing “We are the champions” over the radio on the slow down lap. Both are indications of the strength of team feeling, something Brawn has always known how to create from his days at Ferrari.
But in those days no-one, especially the media, could ever drive a wedge between star driver Michael Schumacher and the team. Here there is an obvious problem and Button’s side have used the press to leverage their position, with stories this week about Button having to pay for his own laundry and of course the infamous rumours about a McLaren dream team with Lewis Hamilton.
Schumacher would never have played that game, but then the Ferrari team would never have contemplated life without him. The same is clearly not true of Brawn and Button. He did a great job for them in the first half of the season, but made heavy weather of it second half and that isn’t the ideal platform from which to drive a hard bargain.
Ross Brawn said on Sunday that he was very confident a deal would be done with the new world champion, “We want Jenson to stay in the team and I think we will find a solution.
“Jenson has a contract with us, but of course that contract is not the salary of a world champion and not the salary of a team that is now in a much stronger position than it was ten months ago.
“We are working with Jenson to find a balance between what we can afford and what he feels is fair for his status and what he can contribute in the future.
“You are never 100% but I would say 99% [certain it will happen].”
Brawn makes the point that the difference between what Button’s contract says and what he is looking for is enough to make a significant difference to the performance of the car. It’s something of the order of £5 million.
This is all taking place against the backdrop of the Resource Restriction agreement kicking in, which is a mutual agreement between teams to keep costs under control. This was what the teams came up with instead of the budget cap.
It also comes at a time when Brawn has landed sponsors and is selling a 75% stake in the business to Mercedes. In two years time, if the deal goes through, it will become the official Mercedes works team and I would put serious money on them wanting Sebastian Vettel in the car in 2012.
Things are changing an there is even talk that the Mercedes management might base themselves at Brawn’s motorhome next season, rather than McLaren. Either way the team looks really well set for the future.
For that reason, Button really needs to stay with Brawn for the next two years, but you can’t blame him for trying to squeeze a better deal.