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What Mercedes buy-out of Brawn could mean

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Andrew Benson | 14:48 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009

What was already shaping up to be a fascinating 2010 Formula 1 season got a whole lot more intriguing in the wake of the announcement that Mercedes is to take over the Brawn team.

Of greatest interest to most people in Britain will be the now-very-likely prospect that Jenson Button will become Lewis Hamilton's team-mate at McLaren, the new world champion's negotiations with the Mercedes-nee-Brawn team having reached an impasse.

While it is still just about possible that Button could stay at what will now be called Mercedes Grand Prix, it is very unlikely and, on the face of it, that leaves McLaren with an all-British line-up that, in terms of publicity at least, lives up to the billing of 'dream team'.

The last two world champions - both of them English, good-looking, with glamorous girlfriends and immensely marketable - in the same team would surely guarantee McLaren the lion's share of interest at the start of next season.

It will be surprising to many that Button will almost certainly not be staying with the team that made him world champion.

But it seems his desire for a pay-rise came up against Mercedes's wish to produce a German world champion driving a German car, and they have not been able to secure a mutually satisfactory deal.

It seems odd that a global car company setting up its own F1 team would not want to have the current world champion driving for them.

But, despite Mercedes's insistence on Monday that its team will be an international one, in the same way as it is a global brand, it seems Button's face does not fit - at least not at the price he wants.

Having taken a pay cut from £8m to £3.5m to help secure Brawn's future last winter, Button was after something like £6m for 2010. Mercedes/Brawn refused to budge. And now Button is likely to receive something like £7-8m from McLaren - still a long way off the salaries of Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and what Kimi Raikkonen will earn not to drive next year, unless he can find a seat after being forced out of Ferrari to make way for Alonso.

I'm led to believe, though, that Button's failure to agree a deal with Brawn/Mercedes is not solely down to financial reasons.

McLaren have a vacancy, and in the context of their dramatic rise back to competitiveness in 2009 - and Brawn's relative fall from it - many in F1, Button perhaps among them, believe McLaren may well have the quicker car next year.

On Friday evening, I texted a friend, a respected F1 journalist, to tell him that Button had been given a tour of McLaren that day, the implication being that he was close to signing for the team.

"Mmm. Not sure that would be wise," was the response.

It's a fascinating match-up, to be sure, but good though Button is you would not find many people in F1 who fancied his chances of beating Hamilton in the same car.

buttonhamiltongetty595.jpgHamilton and Button share a joke - but how would they get on as team-mates?

Hamilton is widely regarded as the out-and-out fastest driver in F1. On top of that, McLaren is very much Hamilton's team - he has been nurtured by them from the age of 11.

McLaren insist they treat both their drivers equally, and that they provide them equal equipment. But Alain Prost, David Coulthard and Alonso have all found that does not stop the unfavoured driver feeling very much an outsider.

Complicating things further for Button is the fact that his and Hamilton's driving styles are diametrically opposed.

Unusually, Hamilton thrives on oversteer, using an unstable rear end to get his car quickly turned into the corner and pointing in the right direction for the exit - and the McLaren has been developed in that direction.

For Button, though, an oversteering car is anathema. He prefers a car that has a touch of understeer, which he can control with his delicate application of throttle and brakes.

It's not impossible for a single team's cars to be set up in two such contrasting ways, but development will generally take the car in a direction that suits one style or the other - and not both.

There will be days when Button will beat Hamilton - perhaps at Turkey, for example, where Hamilton's acrobatic style has caused him problems with excessive tyre wear in the past - but I am not alone in suspecting these are likely to be few and far between - unless Button is very much better than he is currently considered to be.

Meanwhile, Mercedes's decision to buy its own F1 team completely flies in the face of the approach being taken by all other car manufacturers.

Honda, BMW and Toyota have gone already; Renault is teetering on the brink. Yet Mercedes is investing millions in creating its own team, when it already had a 40% shareholding in a perfectly good one.

Despite buying Brawn and selling back its 40% shareholding in McLaren, Mercedes will continue as both engine supplier and major sponsor of McLaren at least until 2015.

That has come about because the contract that tied McLaren and Mercedes together included a clause that neither could do anything in F1 without the other's permission.

McLaren did not want Mercedes to buy Brawn so when the German company insisted, they demanded a quid pro quo that, as far as McLaren are concerned, contains all the positives of a Mercedes involvement but none of the negatives.

Mercedes has justified its decision on the basis that, following the political battles of 2009, running an F1 team is much cheaper than it was, and teams are guaranteed more income from the commercial rights holders.

Whether Mercedes makes a better job of running an F1 team than its fellow manufacturers remains to be seen.

More than a few people, though, have questioned the wisdom of selecting Nico Rosberg as its lead driver.

Quick though the German undoubtedly is, he has done nothing in his four years in F1 to prove he is one of the true elite. Yet this is the man Mercedes has apparently chosen to represent them in battle with Hamilton in a McLaren and Alonso in a Ferrari.

Mercedes almost certainly has at least one eye on prising Sebastian Vettel out of the grasp of Red Bull, but that will have to wait at least another year, and even then the young German rising star would have to be bought out of a contract that ties him to his current team until the end of 2012.

One final thought. What a difference 11 months have made to Brawn bosses Ross Brawn and Nick Fry.

They spent last winter desperately trying to save their team following Honda's decision to quit F1. To do that, they engineered a management buy-out that involved them paying a figure widely believed to be a euro for the team, which was largely funded by Honda this year.

Now, Mercedes has taken a 75% shareholding - which it has bought from Brawn and Fry. I have no idea how many millions it paid but, as well as securing the future of their team, Brawn - already a millionaire thanks to his years at Ferrari - and Fry are now undoubtedly rich beyond most people's wildest dreams.

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