LONDON, Sept 16, 2011 (Tim Collings / AFP) - Jenson Button's future, as much as his exceptional recent past performances, have been under serious consideration and debate this week as McLaren worked to secure the 2009 champion on a long-term contract.
The 31-year-old Briton wants to stay and the team, who announced they have recruited former Williams technical director Sam Michael as sporting director for 2012, want him to stay - the only unknowns requiring negotiation have been for how long and how much?
McLaren are understood to have an option on Button's services for 2012, but are keen to extend that deal by offering him a much longer contract that ties him to them for up to six or eight years. After finishing second behind runaway championship leader German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in last Sunday's Italian Grand Prix - where he outperformed McLaren team-mate and fellow-Briton Lewis Hamilton for a third successive race - Button has proved that his consistency is invaluable to the team.
His manager Richard Goddard made sure that team chief Martin Whitmarsh was reminded of that in the aftermath of another race where Hamilton's dazzling speed and virtuoso talent shone only intermittently. Hamilton is reported to be paid considerably more by McLaren than Button - some sources have suggested double - and this is likely to be the key issue in
the negotiations for both sides. "I want to stay and I am happy to stay for a long time with this team," said Button after his Monza podium finish. "But we need to discuss things. It takes longer than you would like sometimes, but I want to be here, which is the main thing." Button also made clear that like many taking part in Sunday's race he was less than impressed with some of the defensive moves pulled by seven-times champion German Michael Schumacher, 42, as he fended off Hamilton. But he admitted that it was Schumacher's blocking and chopping that led to him pulling off his own passing move on the Mercedes man - an overtaking swoop that he said was one of the finest of his career.
It was also a great way to remind McLaren of his exceptional all-round racing talents. He said: "I think it was one of the bravest by me as it was down the outside to Ascari. Diving into a fast corner... it takes your breath away. It was an important move. I braked as late as I could. "I felt that Michael was moving more than once down the straight. He didn't when I passed him, but I was alongside him. I didn't know where he was as I passed him -- as I closed my eyes! I did that at Spa and it worked so I am doing that from now!"
Whitmarsh made clear in Monza that he was certain Button would still be with McLaren next year and added that he was keen to keep his current pairing together long-term because they provide all the contrasting ingredients
needed. Talking about Button, he said: "He must have had 35 or 40 overtakes in the last few races. We have got two great drivers who are doing a fantastic job. "And Jenson is stuck with us next year whether he likes it or not.."
Many believe that McLaren have to take up their option on Button before the end of September - a deadline that could see him celebrating for more than one good reason if he is also successful in next weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.