Next season Jenson Button will not be involved in Formula One for the first time since 1999, and the first time in his adult life, after agreeing a two-year extension to his McLaren contract that, bizarrely, sees the Brit doing everything he wants in 2017 but drive a McLaren-Honda.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 3, 2016
The McLaren announced their 2017 driver lineup in a hastily arranged press conference on the Saturday of the Italian Grand Prix, and Button, who will turn 37 early next year, will now move into an ambassadorial role for the team, including simulator work and a more relaxed schedule. Hot prospect Stoffel Vandoorne will join Fernando Alonso in racing for McLaren.
In a video posted to his Instagram account, Jenson explained the decision was emotional, but the right thing to do, as he was looking to take a break from the rigorous schedule of F1 and “do the things he’s never been able to do as an adult.”
McLaren themselves have described the switch as “an innovative three-driver strategy” for 2017 and 2018, stating that Jenson will be called upon to race next season “if circumstances require it” – arguably code for “we’ve got a backup if Fernando doesn’t like the car” – and that he’ll be back in a seat in 2018.
“I love McLaren-Honda – I firmly believe it’s made up of the best bunch of people I’ve ever worked with – and I have no intention of ever driving for another Formula 1 team.”, stated Button.
“To be clear, I’m very definitely not retiring. I’m contracted for both 2017 and 2018, I intend to work hard on car-development, and I’m sure I’ll get behind the wheel of the new car at some point.”
This seems to appear fractious at best, almost like a short term fix to get Stoffel in the car that could end up causing problems in 12 months time. For example, what if the 2017 car is actually quite good and Alonso looks to stay on for 2018? Or, alternatively, what if the 2017 McLaren is an absolute dog and Fernando walks away, and Jenson’s having too much fun in retirement to don the overalls again? Both headaches, both highly probable.
You could argue that this “innovative” scheme has already been in place for a season – Vandoorne has been doing the rounds as McLaren’s go to PR man and has even stepped in already in Bahrain when Alonso was nursing his bruises from his Australia crash.
Button’s McLaren career has been a struggle in past few seasons, but if he doesn’t want to come back to race you can’t really blame him. His career has been one that many other racing drivers would swap for in a heartbeat – but don’t forget, this isn’t a retirement. All you have to do is ask him.