Though an official agreement has yet to be signed, has learned that the chances of Rubens Barrichello once more appearing alongside Jenson Button at the soon-to-be re-named 'Honda F1' outfit are 'very, very high' - with insiders suggesting there will be a general 'announcement from the company and the team in the near future'.

For much of the winter it had been rumoured that Bruno Senna - nephew of the late, great, three-time F1 World Champion Ayrton - was in pole position for the second drive at the beleaguered Brackley-based operation, but following the public denial issued by major Brazilian oil company Petrobras to reports that it was willing to back the GP2 Series Vice-Champion's graduation, Barrichello's name has re-entered the frame.

One of's sources close to the team told us last week that 'the whole Bruno Senna thing is just a red herring' [see separate story - click here], and that Barrichello's greater experience - as the driver with more starts under his belt in the top flight than any other, with an unrivalled 267 on the board - would earn the nine-time grand prix-winner the nod, especially in an age of such dramatic upheaval in the sport's regulations.

"From what I understand - and this is purely based on speculation from people close to the team - the likelihood is very, very high," we were told of Barrichello's chances of hanging onto his seat for a record 17th season at the pinnacle of international motorsport. "It's looking more and more as if 'Rubinho' is going to be the second driver.

"It was never going to be Senna. He's a nice guy and a sponsor's dream and everything, but he didn't set the world alight in GP2 whereas Rubens is a safe pair of hands."

It has also emerged that in a bid to help the squad out financially, Button has agreed to take a ?5 million-a-year pay cut - equivalent to virtually half his salary plus bonuses. Prior to the shock revelation last December that the parent company in Japan was to pull the plug on its manufacturer support, the British ace had just signed a new, three-year deal reputed to be worth in excess of ?9 million a year. The 29-year-old will also now foot the bill for the travel and accommodation expenses of his entourage.

"The people who have said that Jenson was a money-grabbing playboy should eat their words," a source told UK newspaper The Times. "He could have held out for his full pay, like certain bankers, and even gone to law with a cast-iron case, but that was never in his mind.

"All he wanted was to come to a deal that would allow him to drive a car put on the grid by Ross Brawn. Nothing else mattered."

Despite having suggested only last week that it had still not been presented with 'any serious buyer' [see separate story - click here], a Honda source has told Japan's biggest circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, that 'we expect to be able to make an announcement from the company and the team in the near future', adding that 'Honda has been making all possible efforts to avoid the worst option of having to disband the team'.

Should the unfavoured latter option ultimately prove necessary - in the event of the failure of the anticipated management buy-out led by team principal Ross Brawn and possibly involving chief executive Nick Fry - it would result in the redundancies of more than 700 employees at the Northants base. However, it is understood that efforts are continuing apace for the expected shakedown of the new, Mercedes-powered car later this week in a predominantly white livery.

Though Force India F1 chairman and managing director Dr Vijay Mallya has claimed that 'the FIA have given special dispensation to Mercedes to supply an engine to the former Honda team for one year', our source rubbished the Indian's contention that 'an engine supplier can supply [only] two teams' [see separate story - click here].

"As I understand it you can take a customer engine from wherever you want," we were informed. "What Vijay is saying doesn't seem to gel..."



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