>Before I get into full flow, let me just say that I have just about come down from Cloud Nine after the Brazilian Grand Prix which saw my favourite F1 team, Brawn GP grab the Constructors’ Championship in style with Jenson Button winning the World Championship.
Considering that 8 months ago, this team did not exist, its achievements have been absolutely remarkable. The car they came up with went through the final stages of development while the designers didn’t know if they’d have a job by the start of the season. During the first few races, they had to lose a third or their staff to make the business plan work. It was particularly good to see Ross Brawn, team owner and F1 legend, pay special tribute to these workers in the celebrations. You can tell that it was very painful to him to have to make them redundant.
Had Jenson Button not taken the car he was provided with and won six out of the first seven races, there’s no way that either championship would have been won by the team. He thoroughly deserves all the praise and accolades we can throw at him for his achievements on the track.
That said, it would have been nice if he could have just enjoyed the adoration and basked in the glory of the media attention rather than conduct his negotiations for a new contract via the sports pages of the national press. Now, I’m sure that not all the reports have been stirring by Button’s manager, but they are certainly behind some of them. How else would we know that he has to pay for his own overalls to be washed after races and the nasty Brawn accounts people refused to reimburse him. Well, I’m sorry, but nurses have to clean their own uniforms so I really don’t have any problem whatever with someone who earns several million pounds a year doing so. Especially when that someone is a resident of Monaco where the rate of personal income tax is, um, zero.
Jenson deserves credit for offering his services cheap to the fledgling Brawn team this year, which was helpful given that they had no sponsors. Cheap, in F1 driving terms means a cool £3 million. Now, I know that it’s not just a simple question of turning up for work for 17 weekends a year, but that is a fairly hefty pay packet by anyone’s standards. If the newspaper reports are to be believed, he’s holding out for £8 million.
My friends at Brits on Pole have usefully reminded us of Jenson’s sometimes complex contractual history. Sometimes, it seems, he can be his own worst enemy.
Obviously there’s going to have to be some negotiations, but I really don’t think it’s wise for Jenson to be pleading too much in the press, not at a time when many of his fans are going to be facing pay freezes, cuts or even unemployment because of the recession.
While the Brawn team’s commercial future is now thought to be assured for the next three seasons, they are now a very small team compared to the likes of McLaren and Ferrari with their pretty much bottomless pockets. These teams, and Red Bull, had the ready cash to throw money at the development of this year’s car during the season. While they’re keen to pay Jenson as much as they can, they’re not going to be able to match what the richer teams might offer him.
I think another thing for Jenson to bear in mind is that it wasn’t just him – he was helped on his way to victory by the sweat, toil and tears of the 450 staff at Brackley. They will have mortgages and fuel bills and all sorts to pay and they need a decent pay rise to reward them for their effort. That’s not just engineers and mechanics – there’s also the people who don’t often get the accolades, like the network people who have to provide race cover from the HQ in Brackley over race weekends, the catering people, marketing, PR and Admin, everyone who has kept this team going over the last year. Every extra million Jenson holds out for will be an extra million Brawn don’t have for everyone else.
He also needs to think about the future development of the car – again, he doesn’t want to squeeze those budgets too tight if he wants something half decent to drive.
Ultimately, if he really wants the big money, he probably will have to go off to one of the bigger, richer teams. Having said that, I can’t imagine for one minute that either Lewis or Jenson would fancy being team mates at McLaren. It’s not all about money, though. Pretty much everything in F1 that Ross Brawn has touched has turned to gold and he will ensure that the team comes up with the best possible car with the resources available.
So, it’s time for all the posturing to stop – Jenson needs to decide whether he’s going to stay at Brawn or not. Only he can do that, but I’d like to see him make his decision quickly and without any more fuss in the press.