Brilliant Jenson Button driving up his value at McLaren

By Mark HughesBBC F1 commentary box producer

As Jenson Button negotiates for a longer and better-paid McLaren contract, so it is a very opportune time for him to be delivering better results than his more highly-paid team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Sunday's Italian Grand Prix was the third straight race in which Button led the McLaren team home - a point his manager Richard Goddard will no doubt be making to team boss Martin Whitmarsh.

The original contract between the two parties specified the 2010 and 2011 seasons, with an option on McLaren's side for 2012.

In the normal way of things, any contract option will normally carry with it a take-up date. If the option is not taken up by this date, it becomes invalid.

It is believed that the deadline in this case is the end of this month. Whitmarsh has gone on record as saying: "Jenson will be driving for McLaren next year, full stop."

So why the delay in taking up the option?

Because both sides wish to negotiate a longer contract, one that would make the option obsolete. But we can assume that each side places differing monetary value on any would-be new contract.

If they fail to reach agreement over the money and terms, then it can be assumed that McLaren will simply take up the option at the end of the month.

In this way Button has nothing to lose: either he gets a longer, better-paid contract; or he continues on his existing terms for another year, after which he would be a free agent.

Hamilton's contract - which runs until the end of 2012 - is widely believed to pay roughly double that of Button's.

In terms of performance, in their initial pairing last year Hamilton definitely had the edge. Less so this year.

Button had some fine moments in 2010, not least in winning two of the first four races with clever, calm and skilful drives in difficult conditions.

But even though Hamilton did emerge as the faster guy, won three times and finished ahead in the championship, Button proved much more than just a number two.

Whenever he got the car into that - admittedly narrow - window he needs to drive at his best, he was truly formidable, such as at Monza a year ago.

He also proved a more consistent and informative barometer of the car's behaviour than the instinctual Hamilton, helping move the whole team forwards.

Into the bargain, Button is a great, positive, pleasant, calming influence on the whole environment. He is a class act.

This year, with a car that fits him, that he sits in rather than on and which has a wider set-up spectrum that can more comfortably accommodate requirements that are more specific than Hamilton's, he has become more competitive relative to his team-mate.

Especially in the second half of the season as the car's development has moved towards him.

It's not that it has moved away from Hamilton, but rather allowed Button to access his own ability more regularly. Hamilton has no problem accessing his own speed as his style is so adaptive to a wide range of car traits.

There are days when Hamilton's ability to just take the car by the scruff of the neck is exactly what is required - see the German Grand Prix this year. But there are also times when circumstances will better reward Button's calm, measured intelligence.

Button's Monza race on Sunday was a perfect example.

Hamilton had failed to find a way past Michael Schumacher's robust defences in dozens of attempts. When one of these left him being pushed onto the Curva Grande grass at 200mph, Button was able to nip past and within four corners succeed in passing the Mercedes at his first attempt.

It would take Hamilton another 12 laps to finally break through.

The crucial point was that Hamilton's thrilling high-octane attack - the only way he knows - was by the 15th lap, with Schumacher's rear tyres going away, no longer the appropriate approach. The Mercedes was ripe to be clinically picked off by the time Button arrived on its tail.

It is difficult to envisage Hamilton's approach ever changing - and so for those days when that works against him, McLaren need a different type of driver alongside Hamilton to give them full bandwidth. A driver exactly like they already have, in fact.

It's just a question of how much money that is worth.

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