Jenson Button currently remains unsigned for the 2010 season, this despite winning the drivers title with a race to go and contributing towards the Brawn team winning the constructors championship. With negotiations apparently stumbling around the issue of money, Button was reported by the Guardian newspaper as having visited McLaren’s impressive Technical Centre in Woking last week. Should Button switch teams after winning the title, he wouldn’t be the first, but it is generally considered an unwise move.
Jenson Button has reiterated that he wants to drive a competitive car next year, although Ross Brawn’s team have given no indication that the 2010 progress has been compromised by the dedication needed for the successful 2009 campaign. However, in recent years we have seen a troubled season follow a very successful season with Ferrari triumphing in 2008 in the constructors, only to struggle with the 2009 F60.
As I’ve said many times before, Jenson wants to drive a car which is capable of winning the next world championship.
We’ve been talking about possible terms for 2010 with Brawn for months and we’re not being difficult or unreasonably expensive in our demands for Jenson. In fact we’ve given up quite a lot of negotiating ground in our discussions with them.
I think it’s also important that Jenson wants to feel valued in whatever situation he finds himself next season. He needs to explore all the feasible options. Richard Goddard, Button’s Manager.
The McLaren car may look very tempting for Button at the moment, and the team are proven winners in the sport with a long and successful history. The Woking team will continue with the Mercedes-Benz engine, the very same that helped propel Button to multiple wins in 2009. The team are highly organised, very dedicated and managed to turn around what was a terrible car at the beginning of the season to a race winner.
However, while driving for the famous McLaren name will appeal, particularly if a long-term deal can be struck, Button would have to face partnering fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton. For the team, this isn’t the best situation as squads prefer to have drivers of different nationalities. This helps the team appeal to a wider range of sponsors which is ultimately hoped to bring in more money and therefore a larger budget to develop the car with.
From a driver’s standpoint though, going up against Lewis Hamilton may not be the wisest career move. Hamilton is very much the number one at the team, and although recently this has come about due to his dominance over team mate Heikki Kovalainen, when Fernando Alonso sat in the sister McLaren, fireworks were whizzing and banging all year. Needless to say, the relationship soured.
And that point brings me neatly onto drivers who switch teams after winning the drivers title. History tells us that sometimes it can prove to be an inspired move, but other times it also proves to be an unmitigated disaster.
In 2006 Fernando Alonso took his second successive title with the resurgent Renault team, the fruits of his labour finally paying off. His performances for the Anglo-French squad were inspiring and the Spaniard seemed very much at home with the Enstone-based team. However, in late 2005 Alonso announced his move to McLaren and shocked the Formula One world by seemingly turning his back on the team that he had been so successful with.
Of course, Alonso’s 2007 campaign didn’t go ultimately well, with controversial moments a’plenty centred around Alonso’s relationship with the team and team mate. Despite this though, the switch could be argued as one of the more inspired moves. The McLaren MP4-22 was a race winner and both drivers narrowly missed out on the title. Both Alonso and Hamilton collected 109 points each throughout the year, while eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen stole the show with 110 – it was one of the closest championships on record.
Due to other events that occurred away from the actual event of racing on the track, McLaren failed to seal the 2007 constructors title having been disqualified. The point remains though, that Alonso made the right call in terms of car competitiveness. The highest placed Renault driver of 2007 was Heikki Kovalainen, who amassed 30 points by the time the final race was over.
In 1996, Damon Hill was ejected from the Williams team as the bosses favoured Heinz-Harald Frentzen to partner Jacques Villeneuve. Although Hill’s move from the team wasn’t of his own wishing, the Briton still switched squads immediately after winning the drivers title.
Hill was an in-demand driver at the time and although getting on in terms of age, still had plenty to offer. I remember exactly where I was when I heard which team the champion had chosen, and it wasn’t who many of us were expecting. Eddie Jordan’s team were courting the first championship-winning son of a championship winner, but when the announcement came, it was Arrows who made the headlines. More so because the small team had never won a race before and had spent much of their time towards the rear of the grids.
The 1997 campaign was difficult for Hill and although the car improved massively and a near-win in Hungary lifted spirits, Damon had finally decided that perhaps Jordan was a better move and switched prior to the 1998 season. Although Hill’s move from Williams to Arrows was courageous, it ultimately was not successful.
Just one year prior to Damon’s team move there was another that also grabbed headlines the world over. Michael Schumacher had burst on to the racing scene and had taken the 1994 and 1995 drivers titles, albeit in contentious circumstances. The second championship for Schumacher also brought with it the constructors title for his team, Benetton. However, in 1995 Michael decided that he wanted to drive for one of the sports more famous and prestigious names, Ferrari.
Now, if we regard only the 1996 season, Schumacher’s move was a complete disaster. Ferrari had completely redesigned the car in anticipation of the arrival of the world champion and Schumacher’s season spent behind the F310 will be one he may want to forget. The German still managed three victories, one of which came at the saturated Spanish Grand Prix and is often regarded as one of the sport’s greatest drives. Although the actual move was a disaster, we cannot really consider it to be one over the longer term though, simply because Schumacher went on to take five further titles with Ferrari and dominate the sport for many years.
Of course, there are many more champions who have sought greener grass after being awarded the drivers title, some of whom found greater success while others found more time to polish the trophy they received the year previous. If Jenson has been offered a drive at McLaren, it will take a lot of thought and deliberation before a decision can be reached. Needless to say though, the Formula One world waits with abated breath.