On the eve of the Australian Grand Prix it emerged Jenson Button had accepted a pay cut in the region of ?Ú?˙12-15m to stay at Brawn GP following the withdrawal of Honda.
Now, with a healthy lead in the world championship, he is tipped to sign a new multi-year deal with Brawn.
Button looks set to stay – but will Rubens Barrichello remain as his team mate?
Barrichello at Honda and Brawn
Rubens Barrichello’s F1 future was written off at the end of last season as many expected the most experienced F1 driver ever to be dropped by Honda in favour of sponsor-friendly GP2 racer Bruno Senna.
But after Honda put its team up and Brawn took over, Barrichello’s F1 career was saved.
By the end of this year he’ll have amassed 284 Grand Prix starts. Another full season in 2010 could but him past the 300 mark. But will he get another contract extension?
Barrichello joined Honda in 2006. He was largely out-performed by Button in their first two years as team mates, but Barrichello turned the tables last, most notably with an excellent podium finish in the streaming wet British Grand Prix.
However Button has beaten him in all six races so far this year, taking five wins and a third place. Barrichello has said he felt the modifications made to the BGP001 at the Spanish Grand Prix better suited his driving style, but he is yet to make that improvement count on race day.
After the Spanish race Barrichello revealed his frustration with his race strategy, which left him vulnerable to being passed by Button, leading to suggestions that Brawn was favouring its championship leader. The team rejected the claims.
It isn’t necessarily the case that if Barrichello is under-performing Brawn might seek to replace him. He continues to display the qualities that made him the perfect number two to Michael Schumacher – even if he is adamant that his contractually inferior status to Schumacher at Ferrari is not being replicated with Button at Brawn.
A new team mate for Button?
If Brawn did want to replace Barrichello, to whom might they turn?
They aren’t likely to be short of suitors. Most F1 drivers are due to have their contracts renewed this year, including Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Nico Rosberg and (presuming the Ferrari rumours aren’t true) Fernando Alonso.
Outside F1 we find a crop of promising talent including Bruno Senna, Lucas di Grassi, Paul di Resta (linked to Mercedes via the DTM, but likely to be disadvantaged by sharing the same nationality as Button) and Romain Grosjean (though likely to end up at Renault).
Are any of these drivers a better prospect for the team than Barrichello? Or should he get to stay with the team and become the first driver to start more than 300 races?