Although it has been assumed that Jenson Button’s decision to defect from Brawn GP to McLaren was motivated by a salary dispute, it has now emerged that Brawn’s offer to Button was larger than previously reported.
According to a story in The Daily Express, Brawn had actually had tabled a deal worth nearly 9 million euros in salary, and an additional 4.5 million euros in performance based bonuses. However, when word leaked through the media that Button had taken a tour of the McLaren headquarters in Woking late last week, this situation changed abruptly.
Although the offical word from the McLaren team was that Button’s visit was merely a casual “hello,” other leaks to the press were less coy on the matter, revealing that Button and Whitmarsh were engaged in substantive contract talks.
This incensed Ross Brawn, who viewed the move as a breach of contract. Brawn had assumed that his own contract negotiations with Button were still in process. Brawn spoke to Button via phone over the weekend to express his displeasure, and on Monday he officially withdrew his 13.5 million euro offer. This left Button with one offer on the table, from McLaren, which he was obliged to take.
Ross Brawn later said, after Button’s signing with McLaren had been made public, “I was very disappointed at the way things finished up with Jenson.”
Ironically, while Button and his manager have been complaining about Brawn’s supposed penuriousness, in the end they snubbed an 9 million euro base salary offer from Brawn in favor of an offer from McLaren for a reported 6.75 million euros.
Brawn GP chief executive Nick Fry told Autosport, “I don’t think that it was a financial issue. We understand that our offer to Jenson may well have been in excess of what he might be getting with McLaren. We are disappointed that Jenson has decided to leave because we did make what we thought was a very generous offer for a new contract which was significantly in excess of the frankly spurious figures that were put out to the press over the past week or so.”
Apparently, once Button had taken a tour of the McLaren facilities, he became seduced by the scope and glamor of their enterprise, and the offer from Brawn became less appealing, regardless of how lucrative it might have been.
Said Nick Fry, “Unfortunately, over the last week there has been very little dialogue with Jenson’s management team despite the fact that we have made overtures to have further discussions. But they didn’t seem particularly keen, presumably because they were set on the McLaren route.”
As has been well publicized, driver negotiations at both Brawn and McLaren proceeded concurrently with the buyout negotiations between Brawn and Mercedes. This overlapping complicated the driver issue, and perhaps had the net effect of nudging Button towards Woking. According to various rumors, Mercedes wasn’t especially anxious to retain Button as a lead driver (although Brawn did offer him a competitive salary in the end). Whether or not this is true, it’s possible that Button feared that the Mercedes buyout might entail a change in team culture, one that might favor a German driver (i.e. Nico Rosberg) over a Brit.
Moreover, some paddock cynics are suggesting that McLaren, feeling snubbed by Mercedes (the Stuttgart giant will be selling their 40% stake in McLaren back to the team, in conjunction with their 75% buyout of Brawn), took special pleasure hiring Button, who will bring his champion’s number 1 to the team in 2010, thus depriving Mercedes of having the coveted digit on their Silver Arrows next year.