What next for Jenson Button?
Jenson Button’s future in Formula One has become a highly discussed topic in recent weeks, with speculation already rife regarding McLaren’s driver line-up for next season when Honda make their highly anticipated return to the sport as the team’s engine supplier.
Since Lewis Hamilton’s defection to Mercedes at the end of 2012, McLaren have slumped into their most uncompetitive streak since the early 1980s with the outfit returning to the podium just once since his departure, at this season’s opening race in Australian. While Hamilton’s former team-mate Jenson Button, has failed to add to his tally of 15-race wins since.
Last season Hamilton’s void was filled by Sergio Perez, who initially began his career at the team on feisty and competitive terms before mellowing somewhat, his lack of results ultimately costing him his seat for 2014.
However, while the Mexican was dropped, the results of his team-mate Button, were not any better as the former World Champion finished a personal best of just fourth at the Brazilian Grand Prix and ended the season ninth overall despite only one retirement at the Malaysian Grand Prix. During the winter period McLaren graduated Kevin Magnussen to partner Button, and unveiled an intriguing new car without a title sponsor. During winter testing McLaren showed glimpses of competitiveness, which were ultimately translated into a surprise double-podium finish at the season opener with Magnussen out-racing his vastly more experienced team-mate on his debut.
However, the Woking-based outfit were immediately brought back down to planet Earth with a bump during the following races with a double-retirement at the Bahrain Grand Prix and then two following races at China and Spain without any points whatsoever, with the outfit essentially returning to their frustrating form of the previous season in only a short space of time. Since then McLaren’s form has remained rather stagnant, with both Button and Magnussen finishing towards the latter half of the points-paying positions, despite Button’s late but impressive drive to fourth at Canada.
After the Austrian Grand Prix, former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve insisted that Sebastian Vettel should leave Red Bull after the current season, sparking the sport’s ever-intriguing rumour mill into motion. In Villeneuve’s eyes, Vettel should leave his current outfit and join Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso’s loyalty to the Scuderia waning after several years of sporadic competitiveness. However, where would the Spaniard go if he did leave Ferrari? The answer many seem to be coming up with within the paddock is McLaren, in a return which could see the double-World Champion spearhead Honda’s return as an engine supplier.
Naturally such rumours are far from likely to come to fruition, with even Lewis Hamilton allegedly being approached by McLaren with a potential return on the horizon. However, lets assume that Villenueve is correct and that Vettel leaves for Ferrari next season, in doing so forcing Alonso to McLaren. Where would that leave Jenson Button? Many are under the firm belief that if Button is replaced at McLaren in the near future he will immediately hang up his helmet and enter retirement, with the Briton content in the knowledge that he secured Championship success and numerous race victories in his long and colourful career.
However, would Button consider switching to another outfit on the grid, one which would happily take his services as a number one driver and allow him to see out the last few years of his career without being forced into retirement. Take Michael Schumacher as a prime example; the German was essentially forced out of Ferrari at the end of 2006 but did not want to retire and therefore returned in 2010 with Mercedes. Admittedly Button could just stay at McLaren and team-mate Alonso, however the Briton has been a number one driver for many years and would unlikely cede his position within the team to an equal.
So where could Button go if he really was forced out of McLaren? The only feasible option would be Red Bull or Williams, with both outfits’ currently still competitive [more so than McLaren]. However, such an option would only present itself if Red Bull elected against promoting another driver within their youth team or if Massa retired from Williams.
Admittedly such a drastic outcome is highly unlikely, with the catalyst in the scenario above, Sebastian Vettel, still tied down to a contract with Red Bull until 2015. However, it’s interesting to see just how many changes could arise if only one driver wished to change teams for next season. Would Jenson Button really wish to hang up his helmet and retire from the sport, or would he be happy essentially moving down to a smaller outfit to see out his career? Only time will tell, with the return of Honda power already beginning to dominate the headlines and various rumour mills with seven months still remaining before the Japanese manufacturer officially returns.
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