But­ton ex­pected to stay on at McLaren

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

Alonso-ri­valling per­for­mances and pop­u­lar­ity with spon­sors make him a shoo-in for a 2016 seat

Jen­son But­ton is likely to be re­tained by McLaren as Fer­nando Alonso’s team-mate next sea­son. McLaren have a con­trac­tual op­tion on 35-year-old But­ton for 2016, and it was un­der­stood, as F1 Rac­ing closed for press, that McLaren were lean­ing to­wards tak­ing it up.

But­ton has been closely matched with Alonso in their first sea­son to­gether, just as he was against Lewis Hamil­ton in their three sea­sons to­gether from 2010-12. With But­ton still per­form­ing at a high level, McLaren be­lieve they will ben­e­fit from keep­ing him along­side Alonso and run­ning two ex­pe­ri­enced world cham­pi­ons for another sea­son.

But­ton has the added ad­van­tage of be­ing ex­tremely at­trac­tive to McLaren’s spon­sors, and the Alonso-But­ton driver line-up gives the team more pull in ne­go­ti­a­tions with po­ten­tial new fi­nan­cial part­ners than they’d have if they pro­moted one of their young driv­ers, Kevin Mag­nussen or Stof­fel Van­doorne, who have lower pro­files. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant given that McLaren have not had a ti­tle spon­sor since the end of 2013, and es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing their on-track strug­gles due to a lack of per­for­mance from the Honda en­gine.

But­ton has raced for McLaren since 2010, but his seat for this sea­son – at the ex­pense of 2014 team-mate Mag­nussen – was only con­firmed in De­cem­ber last year fol­low­ing a board­room dis­pute at McLaren. Chair­man Ron Dennis and rac­ing di­rec­tor Eric Boul­lier had de­cided to re­tain Mag­nussen along­side new sign­ing Alonso, but share­holder Man­sour Ojjeh said he wanted to keep hold of But­ton. Dennis, who has for some time been try­ing to buy out Ojjeh’s 25 per cent stake to take over­all con­trol of the McLaren Group, de­cided that be­cause he needed to keep Ojjeh on-side for busi­ness rea­sons, it was not worth rock­ing the boat over driver choice.

The po­ten­tial stick­ing point for But­ton is most likely to be money. The 2009 world cham­pion took a pay cut to re­main at McLaren for this sea­son, and is guar­an­teed a pay rise in the sec­ond year of his con­tract. This could prove awk­ward for McLaren at a time when they are suf­fer­ing a de­crease in ex­ter­nal spon­sor­ship rev­enues. McLaren would pre­fer not to pay But­ton the ex­tra money, but sources say that they are able to if they have to.

In many ways, McLaren can­not af­ford not to pay But­ton the ex­tra money. Any at­tempt to re-ne­go­ti­ate would con­sti­tute a breach of con­tract that would ren­der But­ton free to walk away should he so choose.

That could lead to But­ton mov­ing to another team, or leav­ing F1 al­to­gether. Pub­licly, But­ton main­tains that he has not yet thought about his fu­ture be­yond the end of this sea­son, and that he has not yet had dis­cus­sions with McLaren about con­tin­u­ing, or with other teams about join­ing them should he be­come a free agent. Sources close to But­ton say he wants to re­main in F1 – but only at McLaren-Honda.

Wil­liams, the team with whom But­ton broke into For­mula 1 in 2000, had ex­pressed an in­ter­est in him when it still looked pos­si­ble that they might lose Valt­teri Bot­tas to Fer­rari. This now seems far less likely and they are aim­ing to re­tain their cur­rent line-up of Bot­tas and Felipe Massa for 2016. In any case, But­ton was not keen on mov­ing back to Wil­liams.

There have been var­i­ous news­pa­per re­ports claim­ing that But­ton might con­sider a move to ral­ly­ing next, and it’s true that he has long con­sid­ered try­ing ral­lycross when his F1 ca­reer ends. His fa­ther, John, who died last year, was a big name in the sport in the 1970s. How­ever, for But­ton, this would only be an oc­ca­sional bit of fun. A full-time world rally or ral­lycross pro­gramme is not of in­ter­est to him.

McLaren are now try­ing to engi­neer a 2016 F1 seat at Manor Marus­sia for Van­doorne, who is dom­i­nat­ing the GP2 cham­pi­onship this sea­son.

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