Former World Champion Jenson Button calling time on F1 career
Jenson Button is expected to call time on his glittering Formula One career after 16 seasons by making an -announcement before the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.
Button has been in negotiations with McLaren over next year but The Daily Telegraph understands that he has decided to bow out on his terms after another season in an uncompetitive car.
Jenson Button racing his McLaren in the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend. Picture/AP.
The Englishman, 35, is expected to combine a sportscar drive in the Le Mans-style World Endurance Championship with a media career, rumoured to include the revamped Top Gear programme.
Asked last night (Monday) if he had made a decision, Button said: “Yes, [my] head knows. Whatever decision happens, I am happy.”
Button’s departure will leave Formula One a vastly poorer sport. He has one world championship title, 15 victories and 50 podium finishes to his name, as well as 278 race starts, making him the third-most experienced driver of all time.
The man whose career began in karting in Frome, Somerset, is likely to confirm his decision this weekend in Suzuka.
His wife, Jessica, is Japanese, and Button has a loyal -following in the country.
He treats the nation’s grand prix as a second home race and would prefer to reveal the news there than in the miserable Russian paddock next month, by which time McLaren’s option on Button will have expired.
His future beyond Formula One is unclear. He has held talks with Porsche over joining their Le-Mans-winning team, but it would need McLaren to release him from his contract.
Rallycross also has its appeal. His late father, John - Button’s biggest supporter, who died at the start of last year - was a successful rallycross driver in the Seventies.
Button recently recorded a rallycross film with David Coulthard for the BBC. He is also linked to Chris Evans’s overhauled Top Gear programme.
Button has repeatedly insisted that he would be racing, and hopefully closer to the front, after three years without success at McLaren.
The 2009 world champion enjoys working with his mechanics and staff at the team’s Woking base, but his relationship with Ron Dennis, the team chairman, has soured.
Dennis publicly told Button to “try harder” on the eve of the British Grand Prix last season and tried to drop the Englishman last December, only to be overruled by the McLaren board.
The McLaren boss spoke to Sky’s Martin Brundle on the grid in Singapore and gave no assurances that Button would stay.
Button’s exit, on his terms, highlights how far the team have fallen. When he joined the sport with Williams in 2000 as a teenager, McLaren were the drivers’ champions with Mika Hakkinen, but now they are down in the doldrums.
After being made to wait until the final possible moment last year to be offered a new deal, Button spoke of challenging for the world title again with Honda now on board as the team’s engine supplier.
But this season has been an unmitigated disaster. With Honda unreliable and down on power, Button has scored points just twice, in Monaco and Hungary.
Lewis Hamilton, his former team-mate, left McLaren at the end of 2012 and has won 19 races since, while Button and McLaren have not scored a victory in that time.
Hamilton has 252 points this season to Button’s six.
Button has grown weary of touring around at the back. In recent weeks, he has indicated he does not think the McLaren-Honda partnership will be a competitive combination in time for him.
“It will happen, it’s just how long it takes for everyone,” he said.
Asked last night about the joy of racing in Formula One, Button said: “The joy of being in the car is only there if you’re fighting at the front, because you feel like you’re achieving something. If you’re fighting near the back, you’re driving an F1 car, but you can easily get joy driving something else. The joy you get is competing. It’s about fighting at the front. It’s about the possibility of standing on top of the podium. That’s the joy of Formula One.”
The fire is waning, and it would take an extraordinary turnaround now for Button to stay on.
In the Singapore Grand Prix last Sunday, he endured a 40-second pit stop before retiring with a gearbox failure. Even though he could stay on to earn at least pounds 8million a year, the poor results have taken their toll.
“Yeah they do [affect your decisions]. The race was mentally very tough. You get out of the car and are pretty p----- off. Half an hour after you’re over it, and looking forward to the next one. You learn in this business to get over things pretty quickly, otherwise they pull you down.”
Button’s seat alongside Fernando Alonso will be taken by one of two McLaren youngsters, Kevin Magnussen or Stoffel Vandoorne. Magnussen drove for the team last season and has grown frustrated sitting on the sidelines this year.
After a superb debut season, Button’s breakthrough year came in 2004, when he finished third in the drivers’ championship behind the Ferraris.
He had to wait until two years later and his 113th attempt for victory. Starting 14th in Hungary, he surged through the field in the wet.
His career was on the brink when Honda left F1 at the end of 2008, but Ross Brawn bought the team and an unlikely championship followed. He outscored Hamilton in their three seasons together, but the years since have been full of toil.