Ross Brawn has given the clearest indication yet that Honda is holding out to sign up Fernando Alonso for the 2009 Formula 1 campaign, by stressing that there will be no announcement on who will drive for the Japanese outfit next year until the double world champion has made up his mind.

In recent weeks, Alonso has been repeatedly linked with a Honda switch, though in light of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen's mid-season dip in form and seeming loss of interest in life in the top flight of late, the previous speculation that the Renault star is set for a future in scarlet - and possibly as early as 2009 - refuses to go away.

The contracts of both current Honda incumbents Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are due for renewal at the end of the present campaign, and if one of them does have to make way for Alonso, it is expected to be the latter - with a record-breaking 264 grand prix starts under his belt, the most experienced driver in F1 history.

"I think every team apart from one (McLaren) would welcome him," Brawn told PA Sport on the subject of Alonso, adding that the 27-year-old - who has consistently underlined that he will make no choices until September or October - holds the key to unlocking the driver market. "We are no different, but whether it happens, who knows?

"When Fernando makes his decision on what he wants to do then a lot of things will slot into place. It's not immediate."

Meanwhile, Alonso will scarcely have been encouraged by the Brackley-based concern's performance in the European Grand Prix in Valencia at the weekend, with Jenson Button coming home a lowly 13th and Rubens Barrichello enduring a nightmare en route to just 16th place at the chequered flag - both more than a lap adrift of the race-winner.

"I had a good start to the race and gained three places to 13th," Button related, "but that was the highlight of my race really. We made things difficult for ourselves by qualifying so far back on the grid after we had expected to perform a lot better.

"I was heavily-fuelled compared to most others and running long on a one-stop strategy, but I was stuck behind [Nick] Heidfeld when he had already pitted; that cost me some time, as I didn't have the pace to overtake him. We ran the option tyre for the second stint, which was initially fine, but then the rears went away quite badly due to the rear brakes overheating."

"After qualifying, we took the opportunity to start from the pit-lane and work on the car to try and resolve the issues that we had [in qualifying]," added Barrichello. "We changed the brakes completely so the car was very different to drive, but it did improve a little bit during the race.

"We need to get to the bottom of the brake problems that we have had all weekend, as these cost me a lot of time and positions. It was a poor weekend overall."

Team principal Brawn, however, remained adamant that significant progress had been made over the mid-summer break, even if he acknowledged that the fruits of those developments were far from evident in Valencia. He suggested that 'a more robust approach' would be expedient for the next race in Belgium and beyond.

"Jenson got a good start and was able to make up three places during the first lap," the 53-year-old former Ferrari tactical genius related. "However, the midfield was quite close, and with a heavy fuel load he was unable to progress through the field.

"Starting Rubens from the pit-lane was the right decision, as he benefited from the m?l?e at turn two and ended up being further up the field than he would otherwise have been. Contrary to expectation, though, there was relatively low attrition with only three cars failing to finish and no safety cars, which meant there were no real opportunities to take advantage of.

"Fundamentally we have improved the car over the August break, and we saw clear signs of that progress in free practice. We didn't make the most of that when it counted this weekend, and we suffered in qualifying and the race as a result.

"Our first priority will be to understand where we failed, and make sure we have a more robust approach for Spa and beyond. We have a three-day test in Monza next week, where we will focus on getting the most out of our recent developments."