When Jenson Button revealed recently that he would relish the chance to partner Fernando Alonso should Lewis Hamilton no longer be his team-mate, few realised just how close the Anglo-Spanish partnership came to happening this season.
Speaking to the Press Association
last week, Button said that, while he was enjoying the challenge of competing alongside fellow F1 champion Hamilton at McLaren, he was welcome the opportunity to go head-to-head with someone like Alonso if the chance were to arise. What the Briton, who shares this year's two races wins with the Ferrari driver, didn't say is that he had already been given the opportunity to do just that.
According to Brazilian news agency Agencia Estado
, which would have a natural affiliation to Alonso's current team-mate Felipe Massa, Button received interest from the Scuderia during his run to second place in the 2011 world championship, and even held talks with the Maranello concern in October, shortly before confirming that he had re-signed with McLaren at the Japanese Grand Prix.
"I had a listen to what some of the other teams could offer me," Button is alleged to have told the report, "I was happy to know that my work was respected."
While Ferrari is understood to have considered several alternatives to the struggling Massa for 2012, including Red Bull's Mark Webber as well as Button, the Brazilian's contract was ultimately honoured in the hope that he could turn around the dip in fortune that has haunted him since his near-fatal accident at the Hungaroring in 2009. So far, however, that loyalty does not appear to have been justified, with Massa struggling for form in both Australia and Malaysia.
Speculation about his future was already rife before Sauber's Sergio Perez, a Ferrari Academy prospect, claimed second to Alonso at Sepang, and the Mexican is now being tipped to take over the second F2012 from as early as Monaco, provided he can prove his pace during the scheduled in-season test at Mugello in May.