Button and Brawn: Now it’s getting bitter
McLaren
Button and Brawn: Now it’s getting bitter
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Nov 2009   |  8:04 pm GMT  |  211 comments

It’s amazing how little time there ever is in F1 to enjoy the moment, to celebrate something special, before something comes along and makes it all turn nasty.

The bitterness is starting to come out now in the aftermath of Jenson Button’s shock move to McLaren on a three year contract.

Brawn&Button
According to Ross Brawn, who has actually been trying to have a holiday this week while all of this has been going on, Button breached the terms of his contract when he visited the McLaren factory last Friday mid-way through the negotiations over a new deal. At the time it is now being suggested, the deal on the table was for £8 million with a back-end deal based on performance which could have lifted his total take to £12m, just short of what Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso earn. The difference is that their salaries are more fixed, with less performance points.

After Button visited McLaren and made it public, with quotes from his manager Richard Goddard about Button wanting to be ‘”valued”, Ross Brawn made his feelings clear to Button in a phone call on Sunday. He withdrew the offer on the grounds of breach of contract, he told Bob McKenzie in the Express. “I was very disappointed at the way things finished up with Jenson,” said Brawn.

The door was not closed, but positions had been taken and Button then fixed his attentions on McLaren and concluded a deal relatively quickly, certainly in time for it to cast a shadow over Mercedes’ announcement of its takeover of Brawn on Monday. The announcement of that – via a hastily arranged conference call with German and British media on Monday morning – suggests that Brawn and Mercedes felt the Button defection was imminent and wanted to get their positive news in first.

The Button to McLaren rumours were swirling that day, taking the shine off the announcement and McLaren was able to turn its deal with Button around quickly and get it announced so that it dominated the news agenda and cast McLaren as the all British champion team against the German team without a winning driver. This fits in very well with McLaren’s repositioning of itself for the future as the “British Ferrari”.

Mercedes boss Norbert Haug has hinted optimistically that there could be surprises in the driver line up, which has got people thinking that he might mean Michael Schumacher, but Brawn has squashed that one today, “When I last spoke with Michael. I did not get the impression that he wants to make a long-term comeback,” said Brawn. Schumacher is contracted to Ferrari and it is staying that way.

All at Brawn are disappointed by what has happened here. Button visited the factory yesterday and spent a few hours with his mechanics and engineers. Button revealed that the deal he has accepted at McLaren will pay him less than he would have earned with Brawn but he had to move because he needed a fresh challenge in his life.

“We offered loyalty which we hoped, perhaps naïvely, he would return,” Brawn CEO is quoted as saying in the Mirror. “There is bravery and there is stupidity, and we will only find out which it is next year.

“We believe we made Jenson a good offer – one that was significantly more than he is being paid at McLaren. We are all mystified by this decision. We think he has been badly advised and had his head turned by McLaren’s glitzy headquarters.”

So the notion of Button being pushed out by Mercedes, which I have never believed, is receding, as is the idea that Button went to McLaren because the financial offer from Brawn/Mercedes was derisory. The belief he would get a more competitive car and the fresh challenge if beating Hamilton are high on his list of reasons.

Button has a history of making moves in the driver market. He twice backed out of moves to Williams and got himself into a mix up. The second time, he had signed a deal and then wanted to get out of it because Williams lost BMW engines. He had to pay a multi-million pound settlement to the team, the negotiation of which was one of Richard Goddard’s first acts as his new manager.

So what next for Brawn? “I believe that the available seat with us is the most attractive on the market,” said Brawn today. The team is in no hurry and can afford to keep Nick Heidfeld waiting. There is quite a lot still in play and Robert Kubica could end up back on the market if Renault decide to pull out. The team has said that it will announce it’s plans at the end of the years, although Indications from French colleagues are that they will stay at least for 2010.

Meanwhile the FIA and FOM are working on a response and possible sanction for Toyota for pulling out of F1 after signing the Concorde Agreement. Until that has been put together, Sauber doesn’t have a place on the grid. Renault will not make it’s decision until it sees how Toyota’s withdrawal is handled by the FIA, although this is by no means its only consideration. This process would ideally be in place in time to be announced at the FIA World Motor Sport Council on December 10th.

Should Renault pull out, Robert Kubica will be available again and Brawn may well want to see how that situation pans out, as it could be less than a month away and Heidfeld’s next best option would be Sauber, which has to wait for its place anyway. The Brawn talked to Kubica over the Autumn but he did not want to wait around to see the outcome of the Button talks.

Kubica and Rosberg is a more formidable sounding line up for Mercedes in 2010 and maybe one worth waiting for.

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1

“Kubica and Rosberg is a more formidable sounding line up for Mercedes”

I really struggle to see why the myth that Kubica is better than Heidfeld is so prevelent in F1. Points scored by Heidfeld and Kubica in their time at BMW:

2006 (Hungary until the end of the season) Heidfeld 10 – 6 Kubica

2007 Heidfeld 61 – 39 Kubica

2008 Heidfeld 60 – 75 Kubica

2009 Heidfeld 19 – 17 Kubica

Total Heidfeld 150 – 137 Kubica

Oh what’s that I hear you cry? “but Kubica has won a race!” Yes, but only because Heidfeld let him past, otherwise Kubica’s race would have been ruined like Alonso’s was. Kubica would most likely have scored no points at all. Heidfeld sacrificed his chance of a win to give the team a 1-2.

Heidfeld has beaten Kubica, Alesi, Raikkonen, Massa and Webber while racing in the same car. That he is still so misunderestimated in F1 is baffling. Mercedes should sign him, then watch him outscore Nico Rosberg.

2

It is interesting to hear Ross Brawn making these comments, considering he sold to Mercedes Benz in the first place. We must remember that Jenson spent six long years at the team, when it was BAR Honda and then Honda, before the team became Brawn Gp. Apart from 2004 and 2009, the other cars Button drove were not good enough to even challenge for championships.

Jenson has given more than enough to the team, and as you mentioned, stuck with the team when he had a perfectly good opportunity to drive for Frank Williams.

It would seem that alot of people out there are uncomfortable with drivers going to big teams and earning big money. These guys are not fools, they know their careers are not going to last forever, certainly when they start to push thirty years old when some of their rivals are a decade younger or more.

Take Alonso for instance. Much like Raikkonen he has had a long and successful career, and his move to Ferrari certainly will not hurt his bank account. Fernando surely, like Jenson, must realise that ‘big opportunities’ in F1 do not come around every day. No matter how good you are, there is always another potential champion waiting in the wings to take your place.

3

James: A bit off-topic, but maybe one you can address for another day.

Jarno Trulli has spoken positively about his NASCAR test; JPM has become successful there, and has won the Indy 500; even Scott Speed, drummed out of F1, is competitive. And, of course, there’s the history of F1 greats (Brabham, Clark, Stewart, Hill, Mansell, Fitipaldi, even Alberto Ascari), taking on the ovals, both here and abroad (Moss and Fangio in the The Race of Two Worlds at Monza).

Given Button’s expressed desire for new challenges, and Kimi’s free-agent status, can you see either of them doing a one-off and racing in one of the American oval classics? For that matter, anyone currently, or recently, on the F1 grid?

Granting that there will be at least some schedule conflicts (Monaco usually clashes with Indy, but that didn’t stop Clark, Hill and Stewart…), the summer break and February, could perhaps provide the opportunity. If Trulli goes into it, I suspect that will get others interested.

What do you think? I’d love to see Kimi bombing around the Daytona banking, or JB and Lewis trying to master Indianapolis (if McLaren even remembers or cares about that part of its history), Fontana or Talladega. Given that F1 is unlikely to return to the States in anything like the near term, it may be the best way to build interest for an eventual return, especially if sponsors actually want to be here.

Who knows? If USF1 comes through, maybe they’ll pull a PR stunt like running their car on the oval at Charlotte!

4

I’m not surprised JB didn’t want his pay based on performance. The Brawn probably won’t be a dominate car like it was this year. Guess I should say Mercedes, it will certainly be good, but he won’t have the edge he had this year to win this championship

5

Hi James,

I thought you may find this interesting…

From ‘Pitlane fanatic’

“The real reason Button fell out with Brawn!”

When Jenson Button signed with Ross Brawn earlier this year, it was on the basis that he would NOT enforce the three years left on his contract at a reported £8m (yes his contract was in UK£) each year plus bonuses. He did it on the basis that he would, like RB and Nick Fry, take a small (rumoured to be 10%) stake in the new company Brawn GP Ltd. The deal was apparently shaken on with a number of witnesses present.

As the year passed, all expectations were somewhat grossly exceeded but the actual paperwork and share transfer forms were never completed. If any blame is to be placed on this aspect, I blame JB’s management team for not following it up. After the first few wins it would have become apparent to a blind man that these shares were now worth considerably more than the paper they were written (on not , as the case turned out) on. But for whatever reason, nothing was said and JB relied on his handshake with RB!

Now we cut to ten days ago, just before the announcement with MBZ was made official and Jenson was flying in from Toyko after some R&R with his girlfriend and a few friends, feeling quite somewhat smug, looking forward to a windfall of around $20m. With that he could “live” with Brawn/MBZ’s less than ideal salary offer for 2010. You may then work out just how miffed he was, to get off the plane and hear from his manager than RB was not going to honour the “deal” on some kind of flimsy basis that it was never consumated in writing and that it was always going to be subject to a formal agreement, etc., etc.

Now you can see why a detour to the McLaren Technology Centre for breakfast was a better option than stopping at the nearest Little Chef……….. 😎

6

James, I demand you find out more about this and elaborate on this great piece of information! 🙂

Doug, thanks for this. It makes things quite interesting! 🙂

7

The BBC are now reporting that Schumacher is already in talks with Mercedes and Eddie Jordan is saying: “The possibility is being actively pursued and I believe it is going to happen…”.

Despite being a lifelong Ferrari fan I think this would be spectacular! It would also be the coup of the century and really put McLaren’s “Dream Team” news into the shade.

8

I am a bit sad that Jenson got the drive at Macca and not Kimi. I think Kimi would be the only one to challenge Hamilton next year and in the McLaren he would have had a great chance to beat Lewis maybe more often than we think due to raws speed and phsychological reasons. I would have loved to see that.

9

Surely if the real possibility arose of him driving Ferrari would not stop him?

P.S James as a birthday present today the missus got me a copy of MS:The Edge of Greatness…absolutely loving it!

10

Great stuff! Happy Birthday

11
Paige Michael-Shetley

If the figures that Merc reportedly offered Button are accurate, then I see no reason why they wouldn’t have a run at signing Raikkonen.

If they think Button is worth a base salary of 8 million GBP with a total of 12 million GBP with incentives, then surely they view Raikkonen as just as valuable if not moreso. Furthermore, if Button signed for 6 million GBP, I’m thinking McLaren didn’t offer Raikkonen much more than that, if any more.

Raikkonen to Merc makes lots of sense for a number of reasons. In fact, it probably makes more sense than him theoretically having another go at McLaren, where the corporate Ronspeak culture that he didn’t like remains. As I understand it, Merc are big Kimi fans, and surely they’d be willing to cut him some slack on rallying and PR appearances.

12
Finn # 1 (there's more than one "Finn" posting comments)

Why would JB want a new challenge. He barely coped with the challenge he faced this year racing the best car on the grid against Rubens Barichello.

Think he was pushed out.

Brawn and Merc know what they are doing. Would put a small bucket of dosh on them winning the WDC next years.

Macca as the English answer to Ferrari? More like the English answer to a Fiat Panda. They don’t even have a clear/well-known logo/image …. other than the borrowed Merc engine logo. Dear oh dear. Ron and his weird dreams.

13

They have a logo but it’s a bit too sophisticated if you know what I mean.

Trust me, I’m a graphic designer by profession and that logo just doesn’t scream uniqueness or recognizability.

I think they need to develope their visual identity to the new level, now that they are going seriously into supercars market.

14

Well, I believe, that good old Button want to change his old team. To be honest, it was almost like one team, but they change their names couple of years in a row. BAR Honda, Honda, Brawn GP – but still, he felt like driving in one team. He tried to change something in the past, but for some reasons it fails.

So, now he had the opportunity, so he take it.

I know something about it, because I want to change my job, but, I am little scary, because it`s always could be worse. But someday, I`ll have enough all of it , and i`ll say – I WANT CHANGE !

So maybe it`s the same 🙂

15

This is the third time Jenson has been involved in a high profile contract controversy in his Formula 1 career. It’s a sad way to end his time at Brawn and given what has happened before at Williams and BAR it appears he isn’t the straightest driver to deal with in contract negotiations.

James, I’m sure the speculation linking Michael Schumacher to a seat at Mercedes is simply wishful thinking but given the column inches it is generating will you be analysing the rumour here over the weekend?

16

Already done.

17

What goes around comes around… Methinks Brawn and Mercedes GP should be very happy with what has expired.

18

I’m sure Bernie is enjoying this – the season is over and F1 is still in the news!!

As a long time Ferrari fan I’m also finding it highly entertaining – though I suspect we may have our own driver problems soon enough…

Brawn do sound bitter but in my opinion they have nobody to blame but themselves.Someone mentioned Alesi in connection with Nick earlier and I was reminded of Monaco in 2000 when Jean qualified his clapped out Prost in 7th.

And thats the sort of “How the hell did he do that??” moment I never ever recall seeing from either Nick or Nico, decent drivers as they both are.

Adequate replacements for Button and Rubens? Not even close to it in my mind.And I suspect a few people at Brawn may be thinking the same…

19

Glad to hear someone read my post 🙂 I was provoked by Gavin here (November 19th, 2009 @ 8:52 pm), who compared Heidfeld to great Jean Alesi, which in all fairness is a bit too optimistic in my opinion.

20

Hi James “Schumacher in talks with Mercedes F1 ?” do you really think he would turn his bank on his lucrative very long term tie up with Ferrari just for 1 or 2 years with Merc ? money would have to be massive wouldn’t it ?

21

The German fans would go totally insane and Luca Montezemolo would say he was dis-loyal and had moved to one of those useless, Johnny-come-lately teams he’s always whining about.

22
Christopher Snowdon

James, do you feel that Button felt like he deserved a top team (i.e Mclaren / Ferrari) to go with his status of being the world champion. No disrespect to Brawn/Mercedes, or any other team on the grid, even Alonso felt that way after amazing success with Renault, and lets face it, most world champions do. Hill seemed to be the only real exception to the rule when he signed for Arrows. Am I right in saying that Hill and Villeneuve are the only world champion since Piquet not to drive for one of those two teams, and they all drove for Williams who were seen in the same light as Mclaren/Ferrari back in the 80’s and 90’s.

23

I think he saw a chance to have a fresh challenge, race for McLaren with number one on his car and be part of the birth of McLaren as the English Ferrari, as Ron sees it.

24

LOL “English Ferrari” ??

Hope Ron didn’t hear you say that!

25

You kidding? That’s his great concept.

26

Even during the season one could have noticed how the feelings towards Button got colder at Brawn. Brawn, the man, went from “I should have paid more attention in my Ferrari days” to something along the lines of “overcautious”. That Barrichello, out of all people, pressed and bothered Button in the end must have been some sort of let down, no matter how important it was for Jenson to play it by the book.

What strikes me now that things have settled in a bit is how easily they let go of Barrichello when a seemingly small effort was made to keep Button. The pair got the best of a car that went from dominant to struggling, thus the WCC. Now that there are important technical changes comming for 2010, it would have made perfect sense to at least keep one of them for continuity’s sake. Hindsight is a gift.

Anyhow, we should all thank these guys for an exciting turnaround to the winter season. We have gone from manufacturers-leaving-doomsday-beckoning to the prospect of many great duels mixed with nationalist pride and rivalries. Did Bernie have a hand in this is is that dwarf one of the luckiest bastards ever?

Let’s cross our fingers and hope Renault decides to continue fully committed for 2010. F1 is much better off talking about driver moves and its implication than its selfdestruction.

27

Wouldn’t it be great if JB won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Brawn GP won Team of the Year!

Get them both on stage together to collect their trophy!!! That would be more entertaining that I’m A Celeb……. Having said that, Bernie should start selling the TV rights to live coverage of the driver’s contract negotiations. More interesting action than some of the races this year!

Ant and Dec could make stupid comments in between the action. If Ant and Dec aren’t available Eddie Jordan could do it on his own!!

28

I think Kubica is highly overrated. Heidfeld has outscored Kubica at BMW without doing anything spectacular – and that’s over three years no less. I can’t see why anyone would hold out until the new year for him.

It just smacks of desperation for Brawn now.

29

Lol, Button just keeps on getting himself in these contract problems.

The offer on the table for Button was rumoured to be 4 million. Not 8. Can’t fault him for feeling unappreciated for such a low offer.

On the Mercedes driver front, I’m not sure why they would wait for Kubica. Heidfeld is a better/completer driver than Kubica anyway.

More surprising is the way that Rosberg is underrated. In the Autosport top 10 drivers list he wasn’t even mentioned. I’d say any driver besides Rosberg is going to be a defacto no 2 driver anyway. Be it Heidfeld or Kubica. Maybe if they could get Raikkonen it would be different, but hopefully he’ll wait for Red Bull in 2011.

30

Rosberg and Raikkonen would be a dream line-up for Mercedes GP. It would put Mercedes GP at the top along with other teams who have great driver pairs, e.g. Hamilton-Button, Alonso-Massa, Webber-Vettel. Rosberg-Kubica or Rosberg-Heidfeld just doesn’t sound like a top team’s driver line-up :/

James, I’m confused if Mercedes GP doesn’t do everything they can to get Kimi. Is it really true that Brawn doesn’t think highly of Kimi??? could you explain it, even a little bit? I’m sure Mercedes and the the sponsors would be more than happy to have a driver like Kimi in the team..

31

I wonder if Ross and/or Nick Fry was trying to be too clever and hold out on Jensen until McLaren had made some more positive noises about their final driver lineup and it was too late for McLaren to be an option for him.

An obvious tactic for Brawn or any team to use, keep the driver dangling until he is desperate, then he will agree to lesser terms.

Interesting that Ross said that Jensen had broken the contract. So when does a contract for a season end? Does it still apply if/while an extension is being negotiated, or is it suspended? (ironically to quote another Ross, “We were on a break!”)

Our friend with legal contacts like to come in here?

32

Most F1 contracts are for the calendar year so end 31st December. I think Ross’ issue may not have been that Button was talking to another team(s) but that it was done so openly. Personally, I can’t see what difference it makes, but it may have been in the minutae of an F1 contract. He had the right to protect his continued employment in the sport but perhaps could have done it in a more covert way until the McLaren deal was announced.

33
Finn # 1 (there's more than one "Finn" posting comments)

Great observation in the Telegraph comparing Hamilton and JB with Schumi:

“Interest in F1 in Britain is glowing red hot following Button’s world championship win and his subsequent move to McLaren. Beyond our shores neither Button nor Hamilton is the big sell that Schumacher is. His brand is global. “

Think this sums up the foolishness of Macca becoming an inward looking jingo-team.

Their sponsors can’t be very happy with them.

34

Is that right though? I’m fairly certain that JB is pretty popular in the far east, for example, and, judging from all the American artists and rappers that LH is able to attract to the McLaren garage since 07, I don’t think that McLaren’s marketing potential is as brit-centric as The Telegraph would have us believe.

Also, from what I’ve read, the JB deal had the full blessing from their title sponsor; I just don’t see why would they get behind a strategy that would have a detrimental effect on the value they get out of their commercial agreement.

35

I think Button’s reason for going to Mclaren is more than wanting a new challenge…

It’s more likely he sees Mclaren as a safer bet, they should be stronger than Mercedes over the next three years.

And we know how keen Mercedes is on German drivers, maybe he was worried Rosberg would be favoured by the team. That coupled with Ross Brawn’s past with Ferrari and having a supporting driver to the number 1 driver might’ve had more influence on his decision.

I know Ross Brawn gave Button and Barrichello equal status in the team this year despite the championship fight, but next year Brawn is an employee of Mercedes.

36

It seems as if Ross is rightly miffed at Button.

I thought button wasn’t getting paid enough so I accepted his switch. However on seeing that Brawn Merc were paying more then it doesn’t make sense.

Why has Button done this? he’s going up against Hamilton on Hamilton’s home ground. Nobody thinks this is a wise move for a driver of calibre.

Alonso, Vettel, Kimi and Lewis are the 4 drivers who kill team mates.

I think Ross is right to question Button loyalty and judgement.

However if Button bests Hamilton then he can claim to be the genuine article.

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