Confirmation came from McLaren this morning that reserve driver and freshly retired Jenson Button will compete in the Monaco GP next month in place in Fernando Alonso, who will be skipping the race to compete in the Indy500.
Button is the teams reserve driver, as well as an ambassador for McLaren. His 2 year contract with the team was drawn up last year under Ron Dennis and states he is available to step in if required and is also available to drive in 2018. It could scarcely have been any clearer that he had no intention of returning as a full time driver though when it came to the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
As a result, following the announcement that Alonso planned to miss Monaco, tongues have been ferociously wagging about who might replace him. McLaren young drivers Nyck de Vries (F2) and Lando Norris (F3) in the mix, as well as rumours that a straight swap with one of the Andretti boys could be on the cards, if they could get a super licence together in time.
But this morning it has been announced that Button will compete at his adopted home race as a one off. He had this to say:
“I’m thrilled to be making a one-off return to Formula 1 racing, and I couldn’t think of a better place to make that return than my adopted home Grand Prix: Monaco.
“I’ve won the race before, in 2009, and it’s one of my all-time favourite racetracks. It’s a tricky street circuit on which a good driver can really make a difference – and, although the McLaren-Honda MCL32 hasn’t begun the season well, I think it may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando [Alonso] and Stoffel [Vandoorne] have raced it on so far this season.
“OK, I realise we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but I think we’ll have a opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings.
“As for Fernando, I hope he not only fares well at Indy but enjoys it too. It’ll be a great experience for him. He’s an excellent driver, as we all know, and he’s very experienced, so, although super-speedway driving techniques will be all-new to him, I expect him to get to grips with it all pretty quickly. And on Sunday evening, after the Monaco Grand Prix, I’ll sit down and watch him do his stuff on TV. I’m looking forward to that too.
“But most of all I’m looking forward to pitting myself against the unique racing challenge that is the Monaco Grand Prix. I’ll drive the MCL32 around Monaco in the McLaren sim beforehand, and I reckon I’ll be ready for the race after doing that. I’m supremely fit, having done a lot of triathlon training recently, so I have no worries on that score. And it’ll be nice to say ‘hi’ to all my old Formula 1 mates too, and hopefully to give the fans something to cheer about.”
Realistic expectations from the Brit but this is probably McLaren’s best opportunity to score some points this season, with power being less decisive.
With Button’s final race in Abu Dhabi seeing him retire on lap 12 with suspension failure, this does also give him the opportunity of a more successful send off.