Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn has revealed that some of Jenson Button's F1 rivals endeavoured to 'unsettle' the British star during his march to F1 World Championship glory in 2009 – using his ongoing contract malaise as ammunition by which to attempt to knock him off his stride.
Though fifth place in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos last month was enough to finally fulfil the early season promise that Button and the former Honda F1 outfit had displayed and clinch both the drivers' and constructors' crowns, for much of the summer the 29-year-old appeared to be making hard work of things indeed.
As the Mercedes-powered BGP 001 – which had come out of the blocks in storming fashion in the Melbourne curtain-raiser, and remained the benchmark throughout the opening seven grands prix of the campaign – began to fall increasingly into the clutches of its rivals and ceased to be the F1 pace-setter, Button seemed to struggle to adapt and cope with the pressure, and from Istanbul in early June onwards he ascended the podium only twice and, worse still, found himself routinely outpaced by team-mate and title challenger Rubens Barrichello.
Whilst he might have pulled it all together again in time to finish the job off in São Paulo with a race to spare, Brawn has acknowledged that other teams approached Button during his barren run with offers for 2010 – well aware that he still has no firm deal on the table at Brackley, his favoured option – in what the Englishman believes was a tactic to try to sway his focus from the job in-hand.
“He has some offers,” Brawn is quoted as having said by Sky Sports
. “Our business is incredibly competitive. There were people, when they became aware of Jenson's contractual situation, who tried to unsettle him during the championship. He knew some of those tactics were for that reason.
“Jenson wants a very competitive car and he wants a reasonable salary. If we offer those two things, we'll find a reasonable solution. I'm pretty optimistic. It's not a situation we would have planned, to be at this stage without the world champion tied up, but all the talks have been positive so far.”
The crux of the deadlock in negotiations is the fact that Button wants his erstwhile Honda salary – two-thirds of which he sacrificed in order to help the team to stay afloat in the wake of the Japanese manufacturer's sudden and shock withdrawal late last year – to be re-instated in a manner befitting of the new world champion, but Brawn is understood to be unwilling to play ball.
A move to McLaren-Mercedes alongside compatriot and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton in 2010 has also been mooted, but the general perception is that the Frome-born ace will likely stay put – alongside, it is widely speculated, the highly-rated Nico Rosberg, who it is now known will no longer be at Williams next season.
“Once we've got Jenson sorted. We'll be announcing our whole package,” Brawn confirmed, “and we want to make an impact when we do that.”