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Button Too Dear for Brawn?

Jenson Button

Jenson Button

It is common knowledge that drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello took pay cuts this year when the moribund Honda works team morphed into the privateer Brawn GP.  There have been suggestions that pay cuts were as much as 80%.  Last March, this seemed like a valid option for both drivers, as their choices were essentially between the fiscally challenged Brawn team, and nothing.

Of course, looking back, it seems like an easy decision, in light of the performance of the car in Brawn’s maiden year.  And Button and Barrichello agreed to the cuts based on the premise that they compensation would be restored to competitive levels once the new team found its footing.

However, now that Brawn GP has established itself as a relative heavyweight on the grid, it seems that Brawn GP is reluctant to open the cash valve much wider.  It has been reported that Brawn and Button are currently unable to find a point of convergence between what Button expects to receive and what Brawn is willing to pay.

It should be noted that there have been no such reports coming out of the Barrichello camp, which would seem to suggest that either (a) Barrichello is off to Williams in 2010, as has been rumored, or (b) after 17 years on the grid, Barrichello is pretty well fixed financially, and is now more interested in extending his Formula 1 career past the 300 race mark than he is concerned about how much he’ll be paid for it.

There have been additional reports lately that Jenson Button has been forced to pay his own transportation costs this year, and he has complained that he has often flown on budget airlines.  Frankly, considering that, even at cut rates, it’s been estimated that Button has been earning about 3 million euros this year, it’s difficult to comprehend why he’d feel the necessity to fly budget.  Mind you, this is someone who keeps a yacht moored at Monte Carlo.

It has also come to light that Button has had to arrange for the laundering of his race coveralls himself.  This is something normally handled by the team, apparently.  He has submitted chits to the team for reimbursement, and apparently the team refused to pay.  This might be taking frugality to an absurd degree on Brawn’s part, nevertheless, Button is a wealthy man by anyone’s standard, and the fact that he should complain about having to pay his own laundry bills seems like so much whining.

In 1993, when Aytron Senna was struggling heroically with an underperforming McLaren, he offered to drive for Williams (the Williams car at that time was the class of the field) for free.  He was already rich, and he had a lucrative personal sponsorship deal with Banco Nacional, so it certainly wouldn’t have been a hardship for him to do so.  Nevertheless, the offer was indicative of Senna’s valuing racing – and winning – over salary, at that point in his career. In 1993, the story made Senna sound a bit desperate; now, it makes a refreshing contrast to the attitudes exhibited by most of the marquee names currently on the grid.

According to a report in The Telegraph, the fiscal grumblings at Brawn now extend past Jenson Button.  When Brawn was formed out of Honda’s ashes, they made sweeping staff and salary cuts, just to stay viable.  As was the case with Button, the staff were all promised that they would receive a fair share of the team’s largesse once Brawn gained a sound financial footing.  Apparently, that has been slow to materialize, and some of the other teams, smelling blood, are now discreetly making offers to some of the disgruntled Brawn folk.

Brawn has had an exceedingly good year, and a remarkable year as a debut team, but next year should be more challenging for them.  There will be continuity in the regulations, which will make it more difficult for designers to find a technical edge, and teams such as Ferrari and McLaren will not be wasting millions of euros developing their KERS systems, so we can expect to see the usual suspects making a leap back up to the top of the podium.  That being the case, this is certainly not the time for Brawn to be losing key players on their team.

Image by shell-jo, licensed through Creative Commons.

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