Jenson Button's Formula One future took a slight upturn in the past 24 hours after it was suggested that he would be entrusted with the shakedown of the car which is now expected to emerge, phoenix-like, from the flames consuming the Honda team.
While no official confirmation has been forthcoming from either Honda or the former members of team management now expected to complete the purchase of its failed F1 project, insiders have revealed that Button is set to appear at Silverstone next week. Despite the ongoing uncertainty hanging over the team's future, staff have continued to build and develop a contender fitting the new F1 rulebook at Honda F1's Brackley base, in the belief that a rescue package would be put together in time for it to make the grid in Melbourne next month.
Button appears to be the one certainty in the situation, the Briton holding the remains of a three-year contract that looks set to guarantee him one of the two seats that will be on offer at whatever rises from the ashes. Despite courting interest from Scuderia Toro Rosso over the winter, Button has clung on to the belief that something would be salvaged from Honda, and looks set to be 'rewarded' with the chance to shakedown the car at Silverstone in a week's time.
The team is almost certain to be saved from extinction by the management buy-out involving former CEO Nick Fry and team principal Ross Brawn that appeared to have been put on hold by rumours that the Virgin Group had launched an eleventh hour bid to take charge. Although Honda - which has final veto on new owners - confirmed that Richard Branson's empire was among several candidates, it is now being seen as an outsider, with the Fry/Brawn consortium in pole position to take charge.
According to Britain's Times
newspaper, the decision to hand control to the former employees was taken on Monday, just days after Virgin's apparent interest hit - and stole - the headlines.
Should next Thursday's outing run to plan, the team is expected to attend the following week's group test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, when Button may be joined by his intended team-mate.
The identity of the second driver has been clouded in the past few days, however, with veteran Rubens Barrichello apparently back on the scene and edging countryman Bruno Senna as favourite to partner Button. The GP2 Series runner-up had been linked to the second seat on the basis that he would bring substantial sponsorship to the team, but this now appears not to be the case.
“My suspicion is that the whole Bruno Senna thing is just a red herring,” an inside source told Crash.net
on Thursday, “He doesn't come with money attached to him, and there is no direct deal linking funds related to Bruno to the team he ends up at.”
The same source also suggested that, despite being rumoured for several weeks, Mercedes' offer to provide motive power for the new chassis, which has allegedly been modified to accept the German V8 after initially being designed to accept the Honda unit, is not yet definite.
“Brackley are planning to take the car down to Silverstone to shake it down... but there's no engine yet," the source suggested, "Mercedes will not release the engines until they have proof the funds are available and, if that's not done by the weekend, then time will be running out."
Ferrari had also been mooted as a potential partner, but faded from the scene almost as swiftly as it appeared.