F1 » 21 June 2011
McLaren option makes it favourite to land Button
An option on its side of their current contract suggests that McLaren has a head-start when it comes to securing the services of Jenson Button for 2012.
Despite attracting covetous glances from Maranello, Jenson Button is still likely to remain at McLaren next season, with both sides apparently keen to cement a deal.
The Canadian Grand Prix winner's future has been at the centre of much speculation of late, having admitted earlier this month that driving for Ferrari remained the only 'dream' of his childhood that he has yet to achieve. With the Scuderia appearing uncertain whether Felipe Massa is the right man to partner Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2011 season, Button's name has been thrust into the spotlight as a potential replacement for the Brazilian, despite McLaren having first call on his services for 2012 and Massa being tried to Ferrari for another year.
While not yet confirmed at Woking for a third season, Button's contract contains an option on the team's side, and it is infeasible that he will not be snapped up after two strong seasons in silver, culminating in that thrilling victory on the streets of Montreal just over a week ago. Although it understands that there may be some negotiation before both sides are happy to carry on, the BBC claims that it is almost inevitable that Button and McLaren will be together again next season.
Should Ferrari's courtship prove too much of a temptation, a degree of compensation would no doubt be winging its way to Woking, otherwise the Briton could find himself mired in the sort of contractual 'tug-of-love' that marred his early career, when Williams and BAR both laid claim to his services with the driver wavering in between.
The British tabloid media claims that Button and Ferrari have met to discuss possible scenarios, despite the hurdles that both would have to cross for a union next season.
"There has been a lot of talk within Ferrari about getting Button - they have already checked to see if he would be available," a Ferrari source has told The News of the World, "The team realise they need a stronger partner for Fernando Alonso than Felipe Massa if they want to win the title again. They've seen Jenson prove at McLaren that he can consistently win or get on to the podium."
Button currently enjoys a £6m-a-year deal with McLaren and only recently said that he would be happy to see out his career at the Woking team, but recanted that claim last week by insisting that he would not be looking to follow the lead taken by Alonso and Sebastian Vettel by signing a long-term deal with anyone. The weekend's latest rumours suggest that the Briton would be able to command a significant pay rise - perhaps as much as £4m a season - should he move to Ferrari, giving McLaren food for thought as it plans its approach.
Should the current pit-lane speculation prove true, McLaren could be left without either of its current drivers at the end of next season, despite being keen to retain both Button and Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion sparked a media frenzy when he was spotted in conversation with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner in Canada, although the BBC believes that Horner was as much taken by surprise as anyone by the meeting. Hamilton has another year to run on his current deal with McLaren and has since said that he is happy to remain with the team that nurtured his junior career.
Should it lose either one or both of its British stars, however, McLaren is unlikely to find itself short of suitors for 2013, having showed itself to have the fastest car in race conditions since the Spanish Grand Prix in May. The BBC claims that Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg has made no secret of his interest in one of the seats at Woking, while there are sure to be other drivers, both established and ambitious, who would relish the chance to slide into a race-winning machine.
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