Button and Vandoorne face off over race seat
With Button’s current Mclaren contract due to expire, he must prove he is a better prospect than highly rated rookie Vandoorne
Jenson Button will have to fight for his Formula 1 future as he enters the final months of his current Mclaren deal.
Button signed a one-year extension late last season after convincing Mclaren boss Ron Dennis that he still had the speed and, crucially, the hunger to continue as a competitive F1 driver. But he will have strong competition for a 2017 race seat after Mclaren’s reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne made a stellar debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Even before this, Button was already at risk of losing his place to the Belgian next season, and Mclaren were already weighing up the 2009 world champion’s experience against Vandoorne’s promise.
Vandoorne stood in for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain after Alonso was ruled out of the race weekend by the FIA on medical grounds. The two-time champion had suffered a cracked rib in his 180mph accident at the Australian Grand Prix, and FIA medical delegate Jean-charles Piette decided it was too big a risk to allow him to drive again less than two weeks later.
Vandoorne flew overnight from Japan, where he had been testing the car he races in Super Formula, to arrive in time for first practice in a car he had never driven before. He built up steadily and ended up outqualifying Button by 0.064secs. Button was forced to retire from the race with a power failure, but Vandoorne put in an accomplished performance and scored a point by finishing tenth. This has underlined his potential and the commonly held belief within the paddock that he is the most highly rated driver without a current full-time F1 seat.
Alonso’s current contract will run out at the end of the 2017 season, and he has said he will not decide whether to continue in F1 beyond then until he has tried that year’s cars and the new Pirelli tyres that will be designed for them. Currently, only Button and Vandoorne are in contention for Mclaren’s second seat.