Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug has confirmed that the German manufacturer is in talks regarding placing BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld at either Brawn GP or McLaren in F1 2010 – in a move that could leave newly-crowned world champion Jenson Button seeking alternative employment.
With a Mercedes buy-in of 2009 partner Brawn GP now looking to be imminent – as the Stuttgart marque prepares to purchase a 75 per cent share of the former Honda F1 operation, and rebrand the team in its own image – it has been suggested in paddock circles that the preference is to field an all-homegrown line-up next year in a kind of German 'super team', composed ostensibly of ex-Williams F1 ace Nico Rosberg and the experienced Heidfeld.
That would leave no room at the inn for Button, whose contract negotiations with Brawn have hit deadlock, as the Briton is asking for twice the figure team principal Ross Brawn is willing to pay him – causing the 29-year-old's manager Richard Goddard to accuse the Brackley-based outfit of making its star driver feel 'unwanted' [see separate story – click here
Seemingly the most plausible option for Button should he indeed either jump or be pushed out of Brawn is McLaren, also powered by Mercedes and in whom the three-pointed star currently holds a 40 per cent stake – although any buy-in of Brawn GP will likely spell the end of the long-standing McLaren-Mercedes relationship, with the Daily Mail
claiming that a £300 million pay-off and an agreement to continue supplying engines for a number of seasons would be required in such an eventuality.
Former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has also been strongly linked with a return to McLaren – with whom the Finnish Ferrari evictee raced at the highest level from 2002 to 2006, triumphing in nine grands prix along the way and arguably being unlucky to miss out on the crown in 2003 and 2005 – but Haug's comments have led to speculation that 32-year-old Heidfeld is manoeuvring himself increasingly into the frame for a seat at one of the two Mercedes-powered teams.
“We are speaking with Nick Heidfeld as well,” the German told news agency DPA
. “Mercedes-Benz supports the idea of signing an experienced and capable German driver. There is, however, no reason to finalise the driver situation too hastily.”
Heidfeld, for his part, wrote on his personal website that he is not concerned about being judged on the basis of his paucity of results behind the wheel of an uncompetitive BMW-Sauber in 2009, with just a sole podium finish to his name in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang back in April.
“Fortunately, the people who run the teams can see beyond that,” explained the man from Mönchengladbach, who has 167 grand prix starts under his belt but still no victory. “All-in-all, I'm quite optimistic about the future.”
Neither Brawn nor Mercedes have been willing to confirm the anticipated buy-in, though in recent weeks the former has conceded: “Mercedes is a very important part of our team, and without the engine we would not have won the championship. It was the best engine in Formula 1 and we have formed a great partnership together. We are looking at all opportunities for the future, but it is too early to announce anything yet.”