Button’s F1 future under threat
Out of contract at McLaren this year, the 2009 champion must fight to remain in Formula 1
Doubt has been cast on Jenson Button’s future in Formula 1 as McLaren weigh up their options for 2015 and beyond.
Button has made it clear that he wants to stay on, saying: “My interest is to race in F1. I want to race forever. In F1 the emotions are all over the place. It is highs, it is lows. I have lived my life like that for a long time and I want to continue my life like that – hopefully with more highs and lows. I am young and fast and enjoy what I do for a living and I don’t want that to change.”
It’s possible he will be retained alongside Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen, who has been sporadically impressive in his debut season for the team. However, Button has limited options if McLaren choose not to re-sign him when his current contract comes to an end later this year.
McLaren have expressed an interest in Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but it is not clear whether he is available. Alonso is contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2016 and insiders say there are no break clauses in that deal.
It has, however, been suggested that Alonso could be free to leave if Ferrari finish any lower than third in the constructors’ championship – a position they lost briefly to Williams at the German Grand Prix, before regaining it again largely thanks to Alonso’s brilliant drive to P2 at the following race in Hungary.
Whether Alonso would choose to leave Ferrari for McLaren is another matter. McLaren are currently in an even worse predicament than Ferrari, plus they are about to enter a new engine partnership with Honda, which will inevitably bring with it teething problems in its first season.
The likelihood is that Alonso will remain at Ferrari for 2015; after all, doing so does not preclude him leaving at the end of that season if he feels the regime under new team principal Marco Mattiacci and technical director James Allison – whose first car will be next year’s – is not making the necessary progress. However, when asked whether he had spoken to any other teams and whether he had given any thought to leaving Ferrari, he answered only the first question.
“Same question every year in July from when I started,” he said. “I didn’t talk with any team and it is not at the moment my priority. We have to score some good points and some good results this year and in the future we will see.” When asked whether he had been reassured by Ferrari’s plans for 2015, he said: “This is my 14th season in F1, so I saw many projects in July and August. In August, everyone is very competitive; in November even more so; in January super… and then in February only two or three are able to win.
“You need a crystal ball to see what will happen next year. Everything remains to be seen.”
But even if Alonso does remain with Ferrari for another year, Button’s position at McLaren is still not safe. McLaren would still have their sights set on the double world champion for 2016, which would leave them needing to decide whether to retain Button on a shortterm deal that gives them flexibility, or swap him for a well-regarded younger driver such as Nico Hülkenberg or Romain Grosjean – then potentially have to replace them a year later.
Inevitably, this means Magnussen’s future is also up in the air. But he is beginning to prove that he can, when conditions suit him, be faster than Button, at least in qualifying. His race performances have been less convincing, but McLaren may well believe that these are problems that can be ironed out over time. The important point is that the basic pace is there.
Meanwhile, there is mounting frustration within the team over Button’s inability to grab the car by the scruff of the neck and wring everything possible from it when he is not comfortable with its handling. One such case in point was the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Here, Button was complaining about not being happy with the car’s balance and was knocked out in the second qualifying session, when he was 0.4 seconds behind Magnussen, who went on to qualify fourth. However, that race also demonstrated the flipside to the team-mates’ performances, in that Magnussen became involved in a first-corner shunt (even though he was found not to be at blame by the stewards) and ended up finishing behind his team-mate, albeit after a strong recovery drive.
If McLaren were going to replace one of their drivers with Alonso, it is most likely that they would to retain Magnussen over Button. This is largely because while Magnussen, 21, is at the beginning of his career, 34-year-old Button is coming towards the end of his.
So Button is now entering a critical phase of his career. If he performs strongly over the next two or three races, then McLaren will probably keep him on for 2015. If his performance fails to show any signs of improvement, they will most likely look seriously at other drivers.
Jenson Button: “I am young and fast and enjoy what I do for a living and I don’t want that to change”
Alonso (above) is McLaren’s top choice for a drive, if he can get out of his Ferrari contract, while Magnussen (right) is a burgeoning young talent they want to nurture