Amid the twists and turns of a remarkable deal, yesterday's statement from the McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, spoke volumes: "We'll be paying [Button] no more than he could be getting elsewhere, and that fact is a reflection of not only Jenson's belief in Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes but also his desire and ambition to build on the phenomenal results he achieved during 2009." Forget the money issues for the moment. It's the phrase "Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes" that leaps out.
For sponsors such as Vodafone, the new "dream team" is exactly that. The pairing may well make more sense commercially than in purely sporting terms. "This news offers brands the opportunity to embrace two of the finest drivers of a generation," says Steve Madincea, an expert on Formula One sponsorship. "There will be a lot of British brands now beating a path to this extremely attractive sponsorship package. Both drivers are articulate, professional and loved by all demographic profiles. By signing Button to partner Hamilton, McLaren have secured the front row of the 2010 F1 marketing grid."
While Kimi Raikkonen earned £25m in 2009, Fernando Alonso will be on £20m at Ferrari, and Hamilton on £15m at McLaren in 2010, all three of their deals were effectively set prior to the recession. Button will be unlikely to earn more than £7.5m at McLaren. But that is still more than Mercedes felt they could offer the world champion.