It has been reported for some weeks that negotiations between Jenson Button and Brawn GP have been at a standstill, the two parties unable to come to terms about salary. Button agreed to a pay cut for 2009, as the team was left in financial straits at the begainning of the season, after the withdrawal of former owner Honda, and the acquisition by Brawn. Button has taken a reduction from roughly 8.75 million to 3.25 million euros per year. According to Button’s manager, this agreement was predicated on the understanding that once the team was on sound financial footing again, Button’s salary would be restored to a competitive level.
While Brawn GP has enjoyed enormous success this year, its financial future is still not completely sorted out. The team has had minor sponsorship from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, doled out in increments of roughly 165,000 euros per race, for a total of approximately 2.8 million euros for the year. This is chickenfeed in the world of Formula 1. Brawn has been able to stay afloat largely due to the generosity of Honda, who left Brawn with 130 million euros at the beginning of the season. This amount has been spent, and until funding has been secured for the coming year, Brawn is reluctant to commit to pay hikes and bonuses for any of the staff, including drivers.
It has been widely rumored that Mercedes is negotiating the purchase of a majority stake in Brawn GP. If the rumors are true, Mercedes would acquire up to 75% ownership of team. This would ensure a fresh injection of capital into Brawn, and no doubt Button would get his raise. However, considering that (a) Mercedes currently owns 40% of McLaren, (b) the acquisition would have to be approved by the Mercedes board, and (c) the world economy is still in recession, many skeptics are saying that the deal will never come to pass; or, if it does, that it will have to wait until Mercedes has terminated its arrangement with McLaren.
As of this date, there have been no announcements that Mercedes has any plans to sell its McLaren shares. However, Mercedes motor sport cheif Norbert Haug has made it clear for several years that his parent company would prefer to see a German driver sitting in front of its engines. As the young German ace Sebastian Vettel is tied to a long term deal at Red Bull, the next driver of choice would be Nico Rosberg. The paddock gossip this year has been predicting that Rosberg would end up at either McLaren or Brawn, with Brawn the current favorite.
Of course, if Mercedes could supply their engines to Red Bull, as well, they would have the best of both worlds, with sport’s top two German drivers both using the Merc powerplant. But apparently McLaren has vetoed the Red Bull deal. I wonder why?
Image by PCW, licensed through Creative Commons.