Jenson Button's 153-race Formula 1 career – which has hung precariously in the balance since Honda announced that it was pulling the plug on its grand prix team at the end of last week – could be thrown a lifeline by Scuderia Toro Rosso, it has been claimed.
Unless the big-budget Japanese manufacturer is successful in finding a buyer for its Brackley-based concern by January, Button will be left without a seat in the top flight for the first time since he made his debut with Williams back in 2000.
'Talks to undo' the new £8 million-a-year, three-year deal that he had recently signed with the squad, Honda President Takeo Fukui has revealed, will now be instigated at the Briton's request – earning him a handsome £15 million pay-off.
“If Jenson gets an opportunity we will sit down and see what the situation here is and what opportunity he has got,” team principal Ross Brawn told UK newspaper the News of the World
“If we can keep him here we will be delighted, but we also understand that it is very difficult for a Formula 1 driver to miss a season – unlike engineers. If the team gets shut down, I'll go fishing. That's my favourite hobby anyway.”
Button is understood to be angry that his continuing loyalty to the underperforming outfit has now left him potentially on the sidelines – and his F1 career in serious threat. Though he has already been to Brackley to give his support to the team's beleaguered 750-strong workforce and has admitted that 'the process of absorbing the news will continue for some days', the 28-year-old is adamant that his overwhelming priority now is to ensure that he is on the starting grid for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in March.
“I want to race in Formula 1,” he told the Daily Express
. “I am happy to listen to anybody who will give me the opportunity to do so, whatever the cost.”
“Jenson is still shell-shocked,” added a close friend, talking to the News of the World
. “He really thought he could be fighting for wins in the next few years as the new car had a lot of promise.
“That's why he was happy to commit to Honda even though there was interest from other teams, but now that could cost him the chance of a drive in 2009 which would be devastating.”