But­ton’s F1 fu­ture un­der threat

Out of con­tract at McLaren this year, the 2009 cham­pion must fight to re­main in For­mula 1

F1 Racing - - IN­SIDER -

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

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