June 10, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- I write this shortly after a thrilling Canadian Grand Prix. Today, Jenson Button has 254 race starts to his credit making him the most experienced driver on the twenty-two-man grid.
He is not old by any means but his obvious familiarity at the helm of a Formula 1 car is difficult to ignore, especially when compared to the youthful enthusiasm of his rookie teammate, Kevin Magnussen.
Button maintains that this will not be his final year and that is indeed possible.
In an ideal world, McLaren Mercedes will most likely want to cling onto the 2009 world champion for at least one more season whilst their youngster, Magnussen gets ever-accustomed to his new environment and continues his quest for consistency in the MP4-29.
With young Belgian racer, Stoffel Vandoorne and a potential big name addition like Romain Grosjean (yes, really but more on that one later) waiting in the wings, it is imperative McLaren get the most of their new Danish signing this year.
Furthermore, which driver would not relish the opportunity to reunite the names ‘Honda’ and ‘McLaren’ for the first time since 1992? It is a legendary combination and in Melbourne next year, the thirty-four-year-old could add one final memorable moment to his list of impressive accolades.
Regardless of the pace the 2015 McLaren-Honda offers, I hope fans and drivers alike do not underestimate the symbolism of their return. After all, surely the MP4-4 of 1988 is the most dominant Formula 1 car ever made? Indeed, the Honda name is more crucial than one might think.
Undoubtedly Button, a well-respected racer, delights in nothing more than a drive in a Wokingham-made McLaren, particularly when considering the team’s illustrious history.
Perhaps therefore a plan to delay retirement until 2015 could be on the cards.
Consider this question: Since his elevated podium at the first in Australia, has Button really been fighting for title glory? His championship winning Brawn was almost absent from the grid at the start of 2009 so, according to the record books, the British ace has little to prove in terms of talent, consistency and mental strength.
It is one thing to dominate in a Mercedes, a Red Bull or a Ferrari but even Ross Brawn himself conceded that the pace of the BGP 101 was a shock. He is a modest driver and always has been, his content with both a championship win and seat with a team like McLaren has seen that competitive streak fall at the wayside. Well, it seems like that anyway.
Button final victory in 2009 came at Turkey for Branw GP. He was crowned champion that year. (LAT Photo)
With the monkey off his back, as the rather confusing say suggests, Button’s motivation to outpace his current and former team mates may not be what it was prior to his 2009 victory.
The lacklustre McLaren may partly be responsible for this possible change in mentality. Give a champion a race winning car and their attitude will return to that childhood desire all karters feel at the start of their young careers.
I take nothing away from Jenson and his obvious natural grace in a Formula 1 model but the MP4-29 will not gift him with world championship glory. No longer the most valuable driver on the grid in terms of sponsorship, he may struggle to negotiate lucrative deals.
The honour of ‘most marketable star’ apparently belongs to Lewis Hamilton instead, lucky man.
So far the evidence points towards one more season: give Magnussen a chance to shine, Button one more attempt to end his career on a high and let the two drivers bring the Honda name back in style. But who are the contenders to replace the experienced Briton, whenever that time may come?
I feel as if we should immediately remove Fernando Alonso’s name from this list. His childhood dream to drive for Ferrari has been fulfilled and the prospect of winning his first championship with the Italian outfit is far too tantalising for him to ignore. Time is also not on the Spaniard’s side and under the new era of Ron Dennis leadership, a more long-term signing is the way forward.
McLaren’s test driver for this year, Stoffel Vandoorne must be considered. The Belgian could, in theory, make a jump up from his role to a full-time F1 drive in a similar fashion to Magnussen.
Runner-up to the Danish racer in Formula Renault 3.5, few drivers are able to beat him on his day. However, Ron Dennis may not be brave enough to partner a rookie with a sophomore driver and understandably so. Sorry, Stoffel but expect to wait a little while longer.
Nico Hulkenberg could also be a contender. Famously brushed aside under Martin Whitmarsh’s reign, his chance to finally secure a seat with a top team could come. A well-respected driver on the grid, the German currently sits sixth in the championship standings and in a Force India too. He is young yet experienced, key components to producing a strong driver line up, assuming Magnussen stays of course.
I feel I should also address the above-mentioned Romain Grosjean affair.
The Frenchman is Renault’s new darling driver; he is the right nationality and their choice over the likes of Vergne and Bianchi who already have strong links to rival engine suppliers. With the backing of such a wealthy organisation, Grosjean could stake his claim on any available seat and frankly many are better than his current Lotus drive. As newly-returning engine suppliers, politics should mean little to Honda as they seek a competitive line up to rival Red Bull and Mercedes.
Jenson Button’s list of potential replacements could continue but with the possibility of a 2015 seat at McLaren, no drivers should be queuing for a meeting just yet. I cannot see Button in Formula 1 beyond 2016, the sport moves on and drivers now seem to retire younger and younger - gone are the days of Nigel Mansell’s first world championship win at the age of forty.
The spark Button offered for so long is now dwindling but the Honda incentive may ensure one more season with the British outfit.
Should Button retire in 2014?
As long as some incentives and competitiveness remain, no but sadly, he must soon accept that the Formula 1 dream is closer than ever; it is not enough to just enjoy racing anymore. When the time comes, Formula 1 will lose a great spokesperson and representative. That much is for sure.