Jenson Button will make his 300th Formula 1 start at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as he enters the final six races of the 2016 season before taking a sabbatical from his McLaren race seat for next year.
At the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month, it was announced that Stoffel Vandoorne would partner Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2017, with Button signing a new two-year contract that binds him to the team as an ambassador, ready to race if his teammates cannot, with an option for a return in 2018.
Assuming he takes part in all of the remaining races this season, Button will have amassed 305 F1 starts since making his debut at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix and although the possibility of him returning in 2018 remains, that scenario will heavily depend on Alonso’s future plans for that season.
“This is definitely the right thing, I’m going to be seeing my family more which is something I’m very excited about,” he said after his decision to take a sabbatical had been made public. “I feel like a kid again, and suddenly I’m in a great position.”
So what could the 2009 end up doing next season? If anything happens to Vandoorne or Alonso he’ll have to be ready to race, much like the former did at the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this year, and Button has promised to continue training as hard as ever.
Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 champion, has spent 2016 racing in the Super Formula championship and that could be a potential way for Button to stay race sharp while spending a year on the F1 sidelines. The cars used in the Japanese championship are very fast and as the calendar is only seven rounds long it suits Button’s desire to avoid a similarly demanding schedule to F1.
Button has spoken about competing at Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship in the past, but the crack LMP1 squads are no longer entering extra cars for the blue ribbon 24 Hour race – as Porsche did with Nico Hulkenberg’s drive at Le Mans in 2015 – and they are unlikely to change their current main line ups in any case.
McLaren has a healthy GT programme that Button could conceivably compete in and he has spoken about possibly racing in Japan’s Super GT championship.
A more compelling idea is for Button to race a RallyCross car in a championship or at selected events in 2017. His father John raced RallyCross cars in the 1970s and Button has already spoken favourably about racing the category. The FIA’s WRX championship is growing ever more popular, as is Red Bull’s Global RallyCross series, which is based in the US.
The 36-year-old moving more into the media also cannot be ruled out. Button made a popular appearance on the most recent series of Top Gear and has since been linked with further work for the show.
But what about after 2017? Do you think Button will race an F1 car again after the end of this year?
Button’s best races:
Just two races into his F1 career as a 20-year-old Williams driver, Button finished sixth to collect his first world championship point.
He rose from ninth on the grid to the final points paying position, putting a move on Max Verstappen’s father Jos shortly before the end of the race at Interlagos. At his first British Grand Prix two races later, Button qualified sixth and finished fifth.
After a difficult year with Benetton in 2001, Button, racing for the same squad that had been bought by Renault for 2002, was in line for his first ever F1 podium in the second race of the season at Malaysia.
But his R202 suffered a suspension problem late on that dropped him into the clutches of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, who demoted the Briton to fourth.
Two years later, Button, now at BAR, finally sealed his first F1 podium by finishing third at Sepang.
He would go on to score nine more rostrum visits that year, as well as record his first pole at Imola, and he finished third in the drivers’ championship.
In his 114th race, Button finally took the first F1 victory he craved by winning the chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006.
From 14th on the grid (a ten-place engine change penalty dropped him back from fourth) he rose to the front while others – notably Alonso, polesitter Kimi Raikkonen and Schumacher – came to grief, and the Honda driver won by 30 seconds over McLaren’s Pedro de La Rosa.
Button took pole and the win in the first race of the 2009 season – a result that seemed unthinkable when Honda announced it was pulling out of F1 in December 2008.
But Ross Brawn rescued the Brackley-based squad, which got the rapid BGP 001 to Melbourne despite missing much of winter testing and getting a late deal to use Mercedes engines. Button and teammate Rubens Barrichello did the rest – a 1-2 formation finish that set the tone for a remarkable season.
Button sealed the 2009 world title in Brazil by finishing fifth at Interlagos. After taking six wins from the first seven races of that season, he had been on the defensive as Brawn slipped back towards Red Bull pace-wise, and Barrichello kept himself in the hunt with crucial wins in Valencia and Monza.
A rain disrupted qualifying session meant Button started the Brazilian race down in 14th. He was aided by an incident-filled first lap, but then put in a series of moves to climb well into the top ten. Barrichello’s eventual dramas meant Button would be crowned champion even if he did not finish, but he came home fifth to seal the title, singing “We are the Champions” over his team radio as he did so.
Button had already taken his first McLaren victory in only his second race – in changing conditions in Australia – when he quickly followed that triumph with the win in China two events later.
After electing to stay out on slicks when it began raining early in the race along with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Renault’s Robert Kubica, Button moved into the lead and ultimately held off a resurgent Hamilton in increasingly wet conditions to become the first repeat winner of the 2010 season.
Arguably Button’s most famous win came at Montreal in 2011. He survived contact with Hamilton, served a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the safety car, waited two-hours while torrential rain suspended the race, and then collided with Alonso shortly after the restart and picked up a puncture, which dropped him to last place.
From there he made his way all the way up to second by the final lap and took advantage of race leader Sebastian Vettel’s mistake at Turn six to steal the lead on the final lap and take the unlikeliest of wins.
After being forced to take to the grass on the run to the first corner by Vettel and then moving past Hamilton to retake second place, Button moved into the lead at Suzuka by staying out longer than the Red Bull driver at his second stop.
He ultimately held off Alonso and Vettel to claim a “special” victory in a country he loves.
Button was utterly supreme at Spa in 2012. He claimed pole ahead of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and pulled clear of the pack after the Romain Grosjean-triggered Turn 1 pile up.
The McLaren driver finished 13 seconds clear of Vettel on a weekend where he was simply untouchable. Button’s win at Brazil later that season remains his, and McLaren’s, most recent F1 win.
What do you think Button will do during his sabbatical? And do you think we’ll see him race an F1 car again after the conclusion of this season? Take our poll and leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.