Long suffering McLaren fans will be suffering right now form a sense of deja vu. Once again, the season is drawing to a close and once again the Woking F1 team’s driver line-up for next year is uncertain.
Jenson Button must feel as though his brain is playing the famous song by The Clash – over and over – ‘Should I stay or should I go’, as once again speculation is rife about whether Ron Dennis wants to keep the British racing driver.
No matter how die hard a ‘Big Ron’ fan you are, Dennis hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory over the Jenson Button saga.
Following the announcement that Jenson would stay and Magnussen was to leave, Dennis commented to Sky: “The two-year contract was my idea, not Jenson’s. He didn’t ask for a two-year contract. We made a proposal, part of which was two years.”
Button was clearly on message as he added, “We have both agreed that more than one year is a must. This is a new project and an exciting project. To be part of the legendary partnership between McLaren and Honda is not a one-year thing. I’m looking forward to more than one year.
Of course Button is no fool, and realised there were clauses and options in his contract that meant only one year was guaranteed.
However, the McLaren message was clear – this project a long term one, there will be bumps in the road, but we want Jenson for more than a year.
Dennis again in June stated on Sky F1, “Jenson Button has a two-year contract with McLaren, we are not even thinking about drivers at the moment.”
So why we are here on the merry go round once again?
Has Jenson been doing a Crashtor? Has Alonso been handing him his ass on a silver salver?
Not at all.
In qualifying Jenson has in fact a better record than Fernando. His average qualifying lap is 1.19 seconds quicker than his Spanish team mate, and he leads Alonso 5-4 in the qualy sessions they have both completed.
Alonso has the edge during the race. Where both MacHonda cars have finished, Alonso has been ahead of Jenson on 2 occasions. Jenson though has failed to finish ahead of Fernando at all.
Even were it a matter of a tenth of a second making the difference between winning races or not, there’s no evidence Jenson given the equipment can’t get the job done.
But its not tenths McLaren Honda need to find, its consistency and big whole integer numbers of time.
So there’s no ‘lack of performance’ clause at play here. Why on earth is Jenson’s 2016 drive in question?
Quite simply – cash is the answer.
Even after selling hundreds of very profitable P1 super cars, McLaren Automotive declared as profit of around just £8 million on almost half a billion of turnover – AND of course Macca Automotive and Racing are two separate entities anyway.
So there’s no money coming from the road car division.
Sponsor Hugo Boss have left McLaren for Mercedes and Santander’s contract with McLaren is reported to end this year. The Spanish Bank has though been withdrawing from many forms of sports sponsorship since the global banking crisis began.
Then there are widespread reports that Jonnie Walker are considering their future relationship with McLaren F1. This combined with the Santander contribution is believed to be around $30m.
Add to all this, McLaren’s likely finishing position in the championship will see them lose around $35m in prize money.
All this means Jenson Button’s wage bill has come under scrutiny.
It’s astonishing that the mighty McLaren are having to go cap in hand and ask him to forego £4 million of his contracted earnings, but times are tough in Woking.
Yet through it all Jenson has remained positive and dignified, telling the media this weekend, “Ron and myself have had some good chats. We’ve had some good talks, and hopefully that continues.
“If I’m in Formula One, I’m going to be with McLaren. I’ve had some difficult times; obviously here and the end of last year was very tough, but I’ve got a lot of time for this team.”
And precisely for this reason alone, McLaren should retain Jenson Button for another year.
The woeful start to the McLaren Honda partnership has been typified by appalling on track reliability and frankly the only team the MP4-30 cars consistently beat – is Manor F1.
Yet through it all, there have been no tantrums from Button – he has driven the car without complaint despite probably wishing he was in any other F1 car on the grid.
Jenson has remained positive through the year, refusing to criticise the team or Honda and his attitude stands in stark contrast to the haranguing Renault have received from senior Red Bull Racing personnel and drivers over the past two years.
The long and short of it is, if McLaren and Ron Dennis refuse to keep Jenson Button, they are likely to open themselves up to a far more critical commentary from the media and F1 fans, who at present are somewhat restrained due to Button’s consistent positive PR.
Jenson commented following Honda’s departure from F1, “My time at Honda was amazing. Some of my best times in Formula One, actually. I might not have won races, just one race, but I had a lot of fun”.
It would be fascinating to know how he really feels now about Honda and McLaren.