Jenson Button to take sabbatical in 2017, replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne in McLaren F1 race seat
McLaren
Jenson Button
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  03 Sep 2016   |  5:57 pm GMT  |  129 comments

Jenson Button will step down from his McLaren Formula 1 race seat and will be replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne for 2017 but the 2009 world champion will stay with the British team as an ambassador and reserve driver, it was announced today.

The move by McLaren means Button will take a sabbatical from racing in 2017, and like four times world champion Alain Prost, who took a sabbatical after quitting Ferrari at the end of 1991 and signing a contract in 1992 to race for Williams Renault in 1993.

Coincidentally, Prost, who was Button’s F1 idol as a boy, turned 37 in February 1992 when he was on sabbatical. Button will turn 37 in January next year. Prost came back and won the 1993 world championship.

By keeping Button involved, McLaren has given itself an insurance policy against the risk that Fernando Alonso will quit at any point in the next two seasons, for any reason. Ferrari covered the same eventuality when Alonso was there by hiring Kimi Raikkonen. That way they have an experienced driver and world champion alongside Vandoorne if Alonso leaves the sport.

F1 is introducing new aerodynamic rules in 2017, and Alonso, who by that time will be in the third year of his current McLaren contract, recently suggested he may consider retiring from the sport after that season if the new cars are not “fun and exciting to drive”.

Jenson Button Stoffel Vandoorne

Speaking about the new arrangement, McLaren boss Ron Dennis said: “On behalf of all at McLaren-Honda, I want to say how thrilled we are that Jenson has extended his contractual relationship with us. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that the depth of his experience and the currency of his expertise will give us an advantage over our opposition next season.

“As for Fernando, 2017 will be his third year as a McLaren-Honda race driver, and I need hardly reaffirm his credentials here. So let me simply restate my belief that he’s one of the finest and fastest Grand Prix drivers I’ve ever seen, and we’re very proud to have him in the team.

Fernando Alonso

“He’s been both diligent and patient over the past two seasons, and he shares with all of us at McLaren-Honda the confidence that 2017 will be the season in which our partnership begins to deliver strong results.”

Button, who has won eight races with McLaren since he moved to the British team back in 2010, insisted that today’s news meant he was not retiring.

“I’m delighted that I’ll be staying on as a key member of the McLaren-Honda team,” he said. “In fact I’m massively excited about my new role, which has come about as a result of a number of in-depth chats with Ron. Specifically, I’m looking forward to becoming even more deeply involved in the team’s efforts to bring about the success we’ve all been striving to deliver.

 Jenson Button

“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.

“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.”

Vandoorne has already started one race for McLaren so far in his career, when he stepped in to replace Alonso at this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix when the Spaniard was prevented from racing due to injuries he had sustained in an accident at the season-opening Melbourne race, and the Belgian driver scored the team’s opening point of 2016 by finishing tenth in that event.

Stoffel Vandoorne

When asked by JAonF1 how it felt to achieve his dream of becoming a full-time F1 race driver, the 24-year-old described his relief at securing his immediate career in the sport before explaining how valuable it would be to have Button continuing to have input on next year’s McLaren.

“It’s been a long time coming and it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time,” he said. “It’s not been easy to answer the same questions every week about my future. I’m just very relieved that everything is set now for next year and I can really focus on Melbourne.

“I think we have a very good team for next year with Jenson staying on and myself racing against Fernando. Both are world champions and this year I’ve gained a lot of experience from them, listening to them [on] how they push the team forward, how they develop this car and to keep Jenson in the team and have his experience with us is going to be very valuable for the development.”

 Jenson Button Brazil 2012

So far in his F1 career, Button as started 297 races, claimed 15 Grand Prix victories, 50 podium finishes, eight fastest laps and 1231 points, and he will start his 305th race when the 2016 season finishes in Abu Dhabi.

Button will start 14th on the grid for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix, two places behind Alonso, which will be the 51st race since he last claimed an F1 podium – the 2014 Australian Grand Prix – and the 71st event since his he took his least win, the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.

James Allen’s View: It seems pretty clever by McLaren and it’s a wonder no-one figured this out before the announcement, as it’s been an open secret that Vandoorne was driving next season.

I guess the part that is hard to imagine is Button willingly becoming ‘reserve driver’ which essentially is what has happened here. Is it just a nice gentle let-down, with cash, for Button rather than McLaren easing him into retirement?

Button is realistic. He may get bored next season with time on his hands and choose to drive a GT car or even a rally cross car to keep his hand in. But he has no commitment to anything else at the moment.

From McLaren’s point of view they get to have it all. There is a chance Alonso may pack it in next year if the McLaren Honda is uncompetitive. He has also missed two Grands Prix in the last two seasons due to injury, so what’s to say he won’t have another? Button covers that off too.

There has to be a reasonable chance Alonso will retire at the end of 2017, but if McLaren Honda continues on the progress curve it is currently on, the car will be pretty competitive by then. It will be a case of whether Alonso thinks he has a realistic shot at the 2018 world championship whether he carries on. Then Button would not be needed.

But by then Vandoorne will be very competitive himself and it’s not a given that Alonso would get the number 1 treatment (as he didn’t in 2007) to go for the title. So Button in 2018 has a reasonably possibility of happening if he’s refreshed and still hungry to race.

I think this shows that Button is not ready to retire. The fire is still there and this gives him thinking time.

What do you make of the news that Button will step down from a race seat at McLaren next season? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

I would dearly love to see Jenson take the opportunity, if it exists, drive a couple of IndyCar races, on road courses of course. And then to hear what he might have to say about the differences! (Just imagine Kimi doing the same…)

2

It’s is sad to see a great driver like Jenson Button eased out of F1 this way. He should have told McLaren to stuff it and retire honourably. When has a former world champion ever been demoted to reserve driver? It would have been nice to see him take the Williams drive and then he could have finished his F1 career with the team he started out in. I recall that he achieved the best ever rookie year with Williams only for them to dump him to make way for Montoya. With Jolyon Palmer unlikely to keep his seat at Renault, we head towards the 2017 season with the likelihood of only one British driver in the grid; when was the last time this happened?

3

One of the finest drivers of the last 20 years and proved that nice guys can prosper in F1. Jenson, I salute you!

4

I reckon JB beat Alonso to it. He’s probably thinking ‘aaaarrgghh, I could have had a year off from driving this disastrous car’ hahaha

5

I think this is a good call on both sides. In particular for Jenson, who’s been in the F1 bubble for years and now can take stock, stay within the sport but doesn’t have to go through the “rinse-and-repeat” routine of an F1 season. He can then decide whether he likes the non-F1 racing life or whether he needs to dive back into it. McLaren, as the article mentions, has an insurance policy in case it doesn’t work out with Alonso.

People saying this is a clever move by McLaren but they have a precedent in this area with Mika Hakkinen, who went on sabbatical in 2002. Hakkinen’s was an interesting case in that he wanted to retire, the sabbatical was suggested by Ron Dennis to keep his options open, he decided to turn his sabbatical to a retirement, but then a couple of years later tried to come back (for the 2005 season, with BAR or Williams). So sometimes it can take a few seasons before the withdrawal symptoms kick in (see also Schumacher, Michael; and Lauda, Andreas Nikolaus), which is probably the risk behind this move for Button. But we’ll see how it goes.

While it sounds as though Button wants a break from the F1 racing routine, I wonder what would have happened if Williams had been as competitive as they were in 2014; would he have been swayed to a switch to Grove? It’s quite funny in a way because the two have flirted with each other over time yet, 2000 apart, have never ended up together!

6

I think circumstances forced this decision on JB and Mc. JB and FA are very close to retirement but still very very quick and very experienced. However, the future beckons and if they don’t give SVan a drive he’ll be off – they might lose a future star. Perez and Magnusson seemed the deal but weren’t. So will SV? Mc and Honda would look silly if FA left (car issues) and SV failed to deliver. By keeping JB in Mc they have the possible outcomes covered. If SV rubbish or FA left JB would give them breathing space with all that experience and speed he could save them from the quagmire. JB for his part gets the chance to slip away quietly or have another crack at WDC if the car comes good and others don;t come up to scratch.

7

Exactly right. I think Ron has orchestrated this though as he is genuinely concerned about Alonso’s commitment to remain at McLaren to achieve a 3rd WDC, and I have the same doubts. If the car isn’t up to scratch next year he may well walk, if Vandoorne beats him and puts his nose out of joint a la Hamilton he will walk. The other scenario is, and I believe is equally if not more probable, is that his head will be turned by Renault next season. Their performance gains and what is promised from the manufacturer team for 2018 and will not sign an extension to his McLaren contract. He will end up going back to the team that provided him with his two world titles.

8

Hopefully, Jenson will return as driver and fight for wins and championships in 2018. F1 needs personalities like Jenson not only fast drivers risking their lives almost every weekend. Jenson has proved many times he’s quick winning many races and one championship. Great asset for Formula. Many drivers over last 20 years weren’t so determined to build such nice image of the sport like Jenson Button has done. We’re losing great personality not only champion. Button is respect globally not only in the UK. Everybody admires his driving style, openness in terms of media, great atmosphere he’s building around F1 and team. Spirit of F1: racing, openness and fair play.

9

No one seems to have mentioned what seems too obvious – Button’s talents as a development driver could have gone to help Williams hold off McLaren….the last thing that McLaren wants is anyone gaining any sort of advantage against them while they’re still working hard to improve their own car versus all the other teams. So McLaren still has Button on a leash to prevent that. This deal is a smart one for both parties…Jenson gets to relax a bit but is still very involved with the team and McLaren still can draw upon Button’s skills as needed while denying them to other teams. BTW I met Jenson and his dad in his rookie year at Indianapolis at a Williams promo event and have been a fan ever since, through all his career ups and downs.

10

Ron, has always openly wanted to cull JB, the only reason why not is the other shareholders wouldn’t let him dump that particular PR dream. We talk about pay drivers, JB isn’t, but I wonder what value his PR and sponsor duties bring in, I’d suggest a pretty big number. Dennis has done a number on you JB, that job opening will still be there with the BBC, jump on it and become a TV star, then flip the bird and Hatchett Ron and enjoy a long career as an even bigger household name.

11

I love Jenson but all good things come to an end and it’s been no fun to see him wrangle his Mclaren milkfloat around the middle of the pack (oh wait, a milkfloat actually has some electrical power so that’s not a fair comparison).

A good young ‘un should take precedence over a good old ‘un after a certain period of time, and I think JB has reached that point. I am not sure about this “retirement that isn’t” though. Probably better to have had a clean break and been clear that his F1 driving days are over. By all means be a Macca or Honda ambassador, and have fun in sports cars or whatever, but the idea that Ron would put him in a car in 2018, even if Alonso walked away, is laughable.

12

another couple of years running midfield in another team probably didnt appeal and he would be taking his knowledge and mclarens ideas for the next few years with him.
A valuable addition to the team in all areas and obviously a well balanced bloke that doesnt define his whole life as sitting in an F1 car.

13
Tornillo Amarillo

I guess BUTTON did a mistake here. He said he wanted to race, so he had to move to Williams and keep the light alive, like Massa did. At McLaren next year he is not racing.
Maybe McLaren is more money than in Williams… so it is not about racing.
When you retire, you have to retire for yourself, and not to be replaced for a young driver or pay driver. Save if you establish your own team… unlikely nowadays.

14

could ecclestone be on his way out of f1?

15

button might car to look at the mclaren gt3. he’d be freed from those ridiculous pirelli’s that have ruined f1

16

Hmmm

Ten yours on and once again Alonso is at Maclaren with a rookie teamate who dominated GP2…

Nope, no chance this can end badly, none at all!

🙂

I bet Jenson got a huge pay packet for this one…

17

Dignified retirement

18

Some may say he is/was an also ran, but when he was in the best car he delivered, QED. When compared to his strengths which is really about delivering points over a season he was not shamed by either Hamilton or Alonso, or dare I say Perez or Magnesson. TIme for Stoffell he will do well

19

I think this arrangement is a work of genius. Button would obviously rather stay with McLaren (and have some time to himself next year) than join Williams, and McLaren can’t be sure whether they need Button, Alonso or Vandoorne under contract for 2018, so they’ve retained all three. Thus the possibility of being stuck with the wrong drivers has been pretty much eliminated.

20

At last in McLaren are taking a great decision with Stoffel. Problem here is Belgian driver is not “I do in my style guy”, a controverted product who can raise the temperature in forums, is a class driver, an intelligent & fast one. Probably the best youngstar in years, but you know. Replays and “driver of the day awards” are showed by FOM. Max reivindicated his similarities with ALO but I dont think so, he is a typical “no brain” driver alongside others who are having succes, because Bernie wants this kind of guys: the Sennas, the Hunts, people who are able to do everything to win… e v e r y t h i n g to be an icon. Stoffel is not of that kind, is just a great driver.

21

Its a good decision for Mclaren really. Obviously there must still be some decent money on the table and alot of flexibility for JB to do what he likes- In this if he does find something he likes he can move on without the “replacement fan fare”
It was inevitable that Vandoorne would get the drive following his drives earlier this year and it would be crazy if he didnt.

I’m really surprised that this idea of sabbaticals doesnt happen more often in the pressure cooker that is F1.Raikkonen’s return was the perfect eg- he was the most consistent racer in F1 when he returned. I think Gutierrez is on the cusp of showing is his best form now. Obviously you need to pick the time and environment to do so, otherwise its career suicide but if you have some talent there will akways be someone that wants you.

22

Much of this revolves around Fernando. If the 2017 car is not fast Fernando might have his own sabatical – even next year! At the end of 2017 Fernado could decide to retire, go elsewhere if he can find a more competitive car, or have his own sabatical, effectively swapping places with Jenson. Or perhaps McLaren might even decide Fernando is simply too expensive or doesn’t fit in if 2007 antics resurface. As for JB, I wonder what odds you could get on his second WDC IN 2018? Just asking.

23

Two face saving press conferences in as many days.

24

James

I was just wondering if it was hastily put together as the past few weeks/months were: “Massa to retire, Button to complete circle by rejoining his first team”. Were they caught on the hop? If Massa had not announced his retirement first, would this announcement still be going ahead?

25

I think it created a question mark when Massa made his announcement,but equally it’s been clear for some time that Vandoorne would be in the McLaren next year

Ron has got this one right. It’s a win-win-win

26

Having not seen van doorne in action over more than one race i take it that he has terrific possibilities and is very highly rated. Based on that i can see exactly where dennis is coming from and like you, it seems to be a win win no brainer. Much and all as button has been a stalwart and at times has shown to be a good racer he has never set the world [my world] on fire and subsequently he won’t be missed. What i do like most of all is that we are seeing a new grid beginning to form with some really exciting talent that will take F1 into the future. Time for the fading stars to exit. We’ve seen their best.

27

The way i see it, F1 of late (and possible of the past) has been an unforgiving mistress. Looked what happened to some of the ‘potential’ greats or youngons that were supposed to set the world on fire and are now in the pasture. Right now Kyvat/Mag are barely fighting to keep their career hopes alive. Time will tell…

28

Though JB has been a highly skilled driver and essential personality to F1 for many years this new arrangement strikes me as a compromise situation designed to appease all the parties involved. Button clearly has more to offer the team and deserves the honourable consideration as McLaren move forward and continue their transition to become more competitive.
Congratulations to Jenson and McLaren on their announcement.
No Massa or Button next year – wow.

29

Looking at this from a more positive angle,maybe Jensen wants to be around to continue developing the car for next year,maybe he knows something we don’t,after investing the last 2 years dragging a dog of a car through the mud he’d like to see his continued efforts rewarded by staying involved in the expected success of the new car. This explanation simply backs up all the fine qualities described by many other posters.
And let’s be clear,no other team has developed as far and as fast as they have over the last 2 years.

30

He may even get that Williams seat. Anything can change in 2 years of F1.

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