Ross Brawn broke his silence yesterday to cast doubt on reports that Formula One world champion Jenson Button is poised to join rival team McLaren next season.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Brawn strongly advised the 29-year-old British driver that it is in his own best interests to stay with the team that took him to the world title this season, and dismissed suggestions that Button may have already signed a deal with McLaren that would see him drive alongside Lewis Hamilton in an all-British "dream team".
"Negotiations [with Button] are continuing and the reports that he has already agreed terms with McLaren are not helpful. I would be amazed if that were the case," said Brawn. "His best future is with our team, where he has a good group around him, and there's a lot to be said for that. The logical thing would be for him to stay with us, but of course logic doesn't always prevail."
Brawn, widely perceived to have saved Button's Formula One career by providing him with a car capable of winning the world championship, said that he last spoke to the driver at the weekend. That he is now heading off on a fishing holiday would appear to indicate he is reasonably relaxed about the situation.
Even so, the weight of opinion from pitlane insiders suggests that the move to McLaren is still on. On Friday Button fuelled rumours by making a very public tour of the McLaren headquarters in Woking, and he and his manager Richard Goddard returned to McLaren for further talks on Monday evening.
Button clearly hoped the takeover of Brawn GP by Mercedes, announced on Monday, would give the team the financial clout to increase their offer. Brawn, who remains team principal, is understood to have offered Button a basic salary of £4m with the freedom to boost that figure by signing personal endorsements and sponsorships. McLaren's offer is at least £2m a year more, but would deny the world champion as much freedom to chase commercial deals. Brawn GP paid Button £3m last year.
The takeover – which saw the car manufacturer take a 75 per cent stake in the team that won the constructors' championship – is reported to have made Ross Brawn, as majority shareholder, at least £35m, with some reports putting the figure closer to £70m. The team will change its name for next season to Mercedes F1.
However on Monday, Brawn chief executive Nick Fry made it clear the takeover did not mean their offer to Button would be raised. "We've had discussions with Jenson on what we think is a sensible salary and this is not going to change anything," Fry said. "We're running with a budget that is probably less than most and that's what Mercedes likes."
Not all observers believe a move to McLaren, which would place Button in direct comparison with the talented Hamilton, would be wise. Bernie Ecclestone, F1's commercial rights controller, is among those questioning the likelihood of the move. "Button and Brawn are probably just sparring and something will be worked out," he said yesterday.