It was very good to see Jenson Button back in the F1 paddock and all set to race in the Monaco Grand Prix. This has been a season for unusual racing stories and the flip side of Fernando Alonso’s fascinating attempt on the Indianapolis 500 is Button’s return to the F1 cockpit this weekend.
Not surprisingly for a man who has completed Ironman events this year and qualified for the Triathlon World Championships in Tennessee later this year, Button looks in fantastic shape, although he mentioned several times that he is worried about his neck, as that is a part of the body only active F1 drivers train.
“Don’t worry about that, mate!” said Nico Hulkenberg after the second or third time Button brought the subject up.
The McLaren was competitive in Fernando Alonso’s hands in Spain in qualifying and this track is McLaren’s best chance of points for the foreseeable future – at least until Honda get their act together. And McLaren needs points having fallen to the bottom of the team’s standings, the only team with zero points from five races.
The car should be quite competitive here and McLaren need some points after Sauber scored four in Spain. Although this substitute appearance was supposed to be a no-pressure affair, I wondered whether it now feels that there is in fact a lot of pressure to bag points?
Button doesn’t see it that way at all: “Definitely not. I am very relaxed. Very excited, actually. It is interesting coming back for one grand prix,” he said. “It being Monaco is very special. I have won here. It is exciting but I don’t feel any pressure. None at all.
“The car seemed to be working well in Barcelona. Fernando did a good job. It proves the car is good. I drove the car in the simulator, I drove the upgrade and if it all goes well we should be reasonably competitive,” he added.
The other drivers seemed genuinely happy to see Button back and it’s interesting to see him in F1’s new environment, which is quite different from the one which went before when Bernie Ecclestone was running the sport. Button made it clear that this is a one-off race, but the possibility still lingers that if Alonso loses patience with Honda and sees no signs of improvement he may decide not to continue.
That possibility had more legs before the ruse was devised to send him to Indianapolis as he has certainly rediscovered his mojo out there, which may make him feel more positive about the next six months back in F1. Time will tell. It’s unlikely that Button would want to step in again if anything were to happen with Alonso.
How will Button do this weekend?
As for his likely performance this weekend, he has not driven the 2017 car, but has done extensive work in the McLaren simulator. You can tell he would like to have been given a representative one day test, at a track that has some similarities with Monaco, but the F1 rules don’t allow it -even for stand-ins.
There is less disadvantage for him here than any other track in that all the F1 drivers will be getting used to the idea of fitting these extra wide F1 cars between the barriers, so he is less far behind in that sense not having driven the cars.
Against that his eyes and brain will have to get used to the speed again after six months as a normal civilian. That is exacerbated at Monaco, where the barriers make the speed seem more extreme and everything happens very quickly.
Expect him to build up his pace slowly over FP1 and FP2, as he gets his eye in again. That should be back after three hours on Friday – presuming trouble free sessions and then you’d expect him to stretch it in qualifying.
His grid positions at Monaco have not been stellar in recent years; 9th in 2013, 12th in 2014, 10th in 2015 and 13th last season.
However in those four years he has come through to 6th, 6th, 8th and 9th respectively, so keep an eye on him in the race.
The possibility remains therefore, with this nimble looking McLaren chassis, that he could qualify in a similar place and fight for a point or two on Sunday. He’s good in the races here.
The weather forecast is good all weekend, so rain and mixed conditions will not help him.
What do you think? Where will Jenson finish Sunday’s Monaco GP? Leave your comments below