It is being speculated within the F1 paddock that the ongoing salary stand-off between newly-crowned world champion Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team is only the tip of the iceberg as trouble brews behind-the-scenes at Brackley – with reports that beyond the glow of title glory, other senior members are similarly unhappy with financial arrangements and are being courted elsewhere.
Though both sides continue to deny it, it is widely reckoned that the reason Button still has no contract in-place for 2010 is that there is a considerable discrepancy between what the British star wants to be paid, and what his team is willing to give him.
The 29-year-old surrendered more than 60 per cent of his previous Honda pay packet last winter to enable the team to stay afloat in the wake of the Japanese parent company's sudden and shock withdrawal from competition – but there was always the understanding, he believed, that his retainer would be re-instated once the necessary finances were in-place.
Not only did Brawn GP survive the uncertain winter – albeit with the loss of 250 jobs, practically a third of the workforce – but with its Mercedes-powered BGP 001 the team has thoroughly dominated the 2009 F1 campaign, with eight victories from 16 starts so far, six for Britain's tenth world champion and two for team-mate Rubens Barrichello. That outstanding level of success, Button argues, should be recognised with a far more appealing financial offer on the table for 2010 – but no offer of the like has yet been forthcoming.
Having been on an annual retainer of £8 million during the Honda days, it is believed that Button is now being offered barely a third of that to remain on-board next year and bid for back-to-back titles – something no British driver has done before in the 60-year official history of the world championship. The sport's other big-hitters and fellow champions Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and compatriot Lewis Hamilton are reputedly paid respectively £25 million, £20 million and £15 million per season.
Moreover, according to the Daily Telegraph
, Button – who allegedly had to fly on budget airlines to all the races this year and washed his own overalls in-between grands prix, expenses for which he was not allowed to claim – is far from the only member of Brawn GP unhappy with his financial situation, with a number of senior engineering staff similarly displeased with their bonuses. That has prompted rival outfits to make lucrative overtures towards tempting them away from Brackley – and it is rumoured that Button himself has received offers from other teams.
“No one has said anything to me about this,” CEO Nick Fry told the Telegraph
. “I am extremely surprised. We will look into any concerns that people have, though I am not aware of any. As far as we are concerned these are internal matters, but if there is an issue with anybody we are quite happy to talk to them about it.
“Salary negotiation is not something we do in public. However, I will say that any and all contractual bonuses will of course be paid. We will be sitting down with Jenson after Abu Dhabi to discuss his contract.”
It has been speculated for some time now that engine-supplier Mercedes-Benz – who played a pivotal role in saving Brawn GP from extinction – is looking at potentially buying a majority share in the squad, whilst there are assurances that a mystery title sponsor has already been secured for 2010. However, the rewards promised to the team's loyal staff for the on-track success have yet to materialise.