During Formula One’s painstakingly long summer break, the rumour mill has continued flowing in full motion, with the latest speculation linking impressive Finnish ace Valtteri Bottas to McLaren when the team rekindles its partnership with Honda partnership next season. The only question is: who would the 24-year-old replace at the Woking-based outfit?
After yet another unimpressive season so far for Jenson Button, many are understandably linking Bottas to his seat within the team, with rumours of the 2009 World Champion entering retirement looming ominously within the paddock. Although McLaren debutant Kevin Magnussen has also endured a relatively unimpressive first half of the season, the Dane has recently begun out-performing his vastly experienced British team-mate.
With Honda reportedly eager for McLaren to nail down a competitive driver partnership for their return to the sport next season, many big names have been linked to the outfit including Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and even reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel. However, with McLaren no longer boasting the sizeable budget of previous years due to their recent lack of success, the ability to lure away a large profile like Vettel or Alonso could well prove incredibly troublesome.
Therefore their only true option would be to retain their current driver line-up or opt for a slightly less experienced driver who has the potential to continue improving; such as Valtteri Bottas. The Finn has made an extremely promising start to his Formula One career at Williams, comfortably matching team-mate Pastor Maldonado during his debut season in 2013 before visibly excelling this year after the team’s switch to Mercedes power.
With Bottas unquestionably a star of the future and a potential World Champion, McLaren would need to pounce quickly to secure the services of the competitive Finn. However, the conundrum still exists as to who Bottas would theoretically replace at McLaren. Admittedly the prospect of Bottas joining Button at McLaren would look inviting to many within the paddock, however could the former GP3 Champion complete a straight swap with Button?
Although such a move would seem quite unlikely, the switch could have beneficial implications for both drivers involved. For Valtteri Bottas, he would be making a considerable improvement in quest for glory in the sport, joining a highly respectable outfit which has been renowned for signing Finnish drivers in recent history.
For Jenson Button, he would be returning to his roots at Williams, a team which currently look in far better shape than McLaren this season. Providing both parties can manage to bury their previous contractual issues, the 2009 World Champion could certainly find himself as the lead driver at the team should Felipe Massa also leave with a rookie such as Felipe Nasr making his debut alongside the veteran. If Massa elected to remain at Williams, then a partnership with Button would undoubtedly be most intriguing.
However, certain cons plague such an interesting and somewhat drastic change to the driver line-up at both Williams and McLaren. As mentioned above Button’s history at Williams is far from rose-tinted, after contractual issues arose during the 2004 season after the Briton signed a deal to return to Williams for the following season, despite a clause existing in his current contract with BAR pertaining to their retention of Honda engines. Eventually Button was forced to remain at BAR, where he would eventually secure his maiden victory in 2006 once the team had been rebranded as Honda.
Another fact which could well see Jenson Button retained at McLaren is his popularity in Japan, which could prove pivotal with Honda returning to the sport next season as McLaren’s engine supplier. The Briton competed with the outfit during their last endeavour in the sport with their own outfit, before they eventually pulled out and became Brawn GP at the start of 2009.
This leads to a major factor which could keep Valtteri Bottas rooted to his current seat at Williams, with the team clearly enjoying a strong resurgence with Mercedes power. Although many fans and members of the paddock alike view Honda’s return with great optimism, there is no guarantee that the rekindled McLaren-Honda partnership will yield immediate success and competitiveness. One only has to look at Honda’s last visit to the grid with their own team in 2008 to discover that they were far from competitive and struggled towards the rear of the order alongside Force India and the only other Honda-powered team Super Aguri. With McLaren currently still a long way from their former competitiveness, a straight swap between Bottas and Button would undoubtedly favour Button more than anyone.
Ultimately such an alteration would be highly unlikely, but not entirely unfeasible due to the change that will eventually take place at McLaren. Jenson Button could well remain at the outfit alongside either Kevin Magnussen or McLaren protege Stoffel Vandoorne, or a surprise change could be in order with Honda pulling the strings in their eagerness for the team to nail down a competitive duo to lead their return to the sport. Although Valtteri Bottas has clearly impressed many so far in his relatively short career in the sport, one must never rule out the likes of Nico Hulkenberg, who is also continuing to impress once again this season.
Picture(s) Copyright © Octane Photographic