Jenson Button returns for a one off race to sub for Fernando Alonso who will be competing in the Indy500. But what can the Brit expect from his brief return to the sport? Our very own Hayley Stanway shares her thoughts on the return of the 2009 F1 World Champion.
I haven’t come across anyone who isn’t excited to see Jenson back behind the wheel this weekend. Fans and pundits alike, the hype is very real! None of whom would shy away from telling it like it is about the MCL32 that he will be taming around the streets of Monaco this weekend.
Button signed a 2 year contract with McLaren last year, under the watchful and persuasive eye of Ron Dennis, that ties him to the team as a brand ambassador but also as a reserve driver. At the time, this was very much branded as a sabbatical with all involved keen to state that he is available to drive in 2018, should his services be required.
Following Ron’s departure, this was swiftly re-branded as retirement. Button started to be quite clear that he felt his time in the sport had drawn to natural conclusion and that he had no intention of returning. Since the conclusion to the 2016 season, he has assumed, what he considers to be a closer to normal existence. And, he is loving it!
A selection of Jenson’s ‘retirement snaps’ compiled by Sky Sports
The term ‘normal’ is entirely subjective, of course. He has spent most of his time in the states training for triathlons – for which he has qualified for the world championships. He has tested the OlsbergMSE’s Honda Civic Rallycross car in Florida and took part in the Race of Champions in Miami in January. All very normal indeed… he’s even become the proud father of 2 pomsky puppies too.
So when he got the call from Eric Boullier requesting his services at the 2017 Monaco GP, it could have gone either way. He has since said that to come back for a one off race, particularly in Monaco is a ‘dream come true’ so, having gained permission from the dogs and then the Mrs, it was lights out and away we go!
Cynics will say that he is contractually obliged to step in and that given the turmoil the team are in with reliability, he may have preferred to give it a miss. The fact that he rejected the opportunity to run in the test at Bahrain earlier this year seems to support that.
Taken at face value though, a half days running at a completely different track where reliability severely reduced their running anyway, really wouldn’t have been much use. He spent a couple of days in the simulator and has learned how not to stick it in the harbour so he is feeling confident. He has so far been all smiles and full of jokes as normal and is still managing to dodge questions about the reliability of the car so far, like none other!
He hasn’t wavered from his stance that he is here to do his best, but primarily to enjoy himself and he says he feels no pressure at all coming into the weekend.
So, what can he expect?
Well Monaco is famous for many things, one of which being that it tends to favour chassis over power unit – music to McLaren’s ears, surely. The Honda PU is slow, there is no getting away from the fact that is may be the slowest car in a straight line on the grid.
The chassis, however, is largely thought to be right up there with the front runners in terms of balance and Alonso’s performance in the twisty third sector at Barcelona seems to confirm this. So rather than wallowing at the back and being overtaking by all and sundry, there is a chance he could actually get involved in some racing here! A bit of a novelty by their standards!
It has to be McLarens best opportunity to score points all season and do they ever need them after Pascal Wehrlein brought his Sauber home in 8th, earning them 4 points and leaving McLaren dead last.
He hasn’t driven the car at all coming into the weekend other than a couple of days in the simulator, so he could find himself having to relearn the lines, given that the cars are much wider this season. But he has driven Monaco more than any other driver on the grid and with the sim experience, it should only take a few laps for his instincts to tell him where the edge of the car is and how close he can get to the barriers.
But then there is the Achilles heel of the team, reliability. Of 8 race starts, they have had just 3 finishes. Stoffel is already taking penalties for additional components and Jenson’s car it teetering on the edge, with 4 turbos and 4 MGU-H already used. One more of either of those components and he will be sent toward the back of the grid.
It may favour chassis over outright speed, but the tight streets of Monaco are not known for their abundance of overtaking opportunities, so a back of the grid start would all but quash any hopes of points for the team.
Whilst he should become acquainted with the car in relatively short shrift, reliability issues early on will hamper this as well. He is hoping to get as many laps in as possible to get back in the groove before it matters on Saturday. So maybe it is understandable that he feels no pressure coming into the weekend. He can stick about and celebrate a great race if it comes, or he can disappear back into retirement if it doesn’t.
Either way, he has made it clear that he has served his time in Formula 1 and is not available for a full time drive in 2018.