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Jenson Button Agrees to Three-Year Deal with McLaren

Jenson Button - half of an all-Brit superteam in 2010

Jenson Button - half of an all-Brit superteam in 2010

Jenson Button has agreed in pinciple to a three-year deal with McLaren, according to a report in The Guardian.  The contract, which could be finalized by the end of this week, would pay him in the neighborhood of 6.75 million euros per year, or about 20 million euros for the length of the contract.

This was evidently Button’s asking price in his negotiations with Brawn, but Brawn (now Mercedes) was only willing to pay only half that amount, according to various reports.

The McLaren-Button deal appears to be a case of love on the rebound for both parties.  Certainly McLaren probably felt stonewalled in their negotiations with Kimi Raikkonen, who was apparently asking for more in a single year’s salary than Button will be getting over the course of his entire three-dear deal.  And Button, for his part, must have gotten exasperated in Brawn’s unwillingness to bend on the salary issue.  So, in a sense, this is a perfect deal, a match between two parties who were anxious to come to terms.

The purported 6.75 million euro figure is interesting from a couple of perspectives. It’s more than the 5 million euro offer that the Woking team apparently made for Kimi Raikkonen, which would seem to indicate that McLaren regarded Button as a better catch.  Certainly, Button isn’t known for the motivational problems that the Finn seems to experience.  On the other hand, Button’s salary at McLaren will be about half of what his new team mate, Lewis Hamilton, currently earns.

Of course, McLaren were bargaining from a position of strength.  Button had limited options.  McLaren was the only competitive team besides Brawn with an open seat for 2010.  And it had already been widely reported that Button was willing to do a deal with Brawn for 6.75 million.  So McLaren had no incentive to offer him more than that.

Yet, in a team that prides itself on not imposing an official pecking order on its drivers, clearly Button will be the de facto number two in terms of compensation.

But that might be the least of his worries.  Former world champions Sir Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda, as well as racing legend Sterling Moss, have all advised Button to stay put at Brawn/Mercedes, where he would be the reigning champion, and the putative lead driver.  When he moves to McLaren, Button will be the new boy in a team where Lewis Hamilton has been the hub of the team arguably since his rookie year, when double world champ Fernando Alonso was his team mate.

Hamilton has actually been with the team for over a decade: he joined the McLaren driver development program when he was thirteen years old, and still racing karts.  So his roots with the team are long and deep.  And he’s clearly one of the top three or four drivers on the grid (some would rank him at the top), so Button will have his work cut out for him in making an impression on the Woking squad, both politically, and in terms of performance.  If Hamilton gets the measure of him from the start, one wonders how long it will be before Button’s confidence begins to unravel.

But, in the end, it’s possible that Button’s decision was made for him.  Ross Brawn didn’t exactly move heaven and earth to keep his young champion in the fold.  Perhaps “the Maestro” was taking marching orders from Stuttgart.

Mercedes have been keen on having a German driver ever since their re-entry into the sport some 15 years ago, with McLaren.  Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes motorsports, has never been able to close a deal.  With the acquisition of Brawn GP, and the signing of Nico Rosberg as new lead driver (as yet unconfirmed), it appears that the pieces have finally fallen into place for the Silver Arrows.  Clearly, they will want the spotlight to be on the young German.  A low-ball offer to Button would have been a means of edging the Brit out of the team – or retaining him at a value price.

One would be curious to know how much Nico Rosberg’s deal with the team is worth.

Image by Rick Dikeman, licensed through Creative Commons.

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