For Jenson Button this recent speculation over his future with McLaren for next season must feel like a really bad case of deja vu. This time last year he faced the same mounting speculation over his future, which was not settled until early December. This time around he will be pleading with the McLaren team to make a decision as to his future a lot quicker than last year.
It seemed very much in the balance last winter as the McLaren team exhaustively deliberated who would be the best choice to partner the incoming superstar Fernando Alonso. With the new Honda engine package for this year, it was decided that the vast experience and great relationship Button has with Honda swung the drive in his favour. This forced promising rookie Kevin Magnussen into the reserve driver role for this year, however with Belgian protege Stoffel Vandoorne blitzing the GP2 field McLaren now has a serious driver logjam on it’s hands.
Whilst the team has the most high profile driver line up in F1 outside of AMG Mercedes and Ferrari, the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will not be a cheap option for the team. This is becoming increasingly important as McLaren has struggled to return to race winning form since the end of 2012. McLaren team principal Eric Boullier commenting recently how the team’s struggles this year will hugely affect their future revenue streams.
The team are currently ninth in the F1 constructors standings, which will represent a drop of $15 million dollars compared to their fifth place finish last year. Their lack of results will also make it a lot harder to attract potential sponsors. This is something the team has struggled with since it lost title sponsor Vodafone at the end of 2013.
The McLaren-Honda car for this year, noticeably devoid of major sponsors once again. Photo credit thanks to McLaren.com and BBCsport.com .
Jenson Button reiterated his commitment to F1 last season when he took a pay cut to re-sign with the team for 2015 and 2016. Therefore it seems strange that speculation is still mounting recently as to his future when he has a contract in place for next year. Also Button will be kept up to date with any negotiations with Vandoorne as he co-manages the young Belgian driver.
With Fernando Alonso still the best overall driver in F1 McLaren are not going to drop him any time soon, this leaves Button on the hot seat should McLaren feel they need an injection of youth in their driver line up. Whilst this may prove to be an illogical move at this present time with Honda’s inexperience with these new, highly complex power units. Surely Honda will need the vast experience of both Alonso and Button to help in their mission to catch up on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari who have several years head start on them in terms of these power units.
If Button is retained for next year this leaves McLaren with another issue. What can they do with Magnussen and Vandoorne? Magnussen showed good promise in his rookie year last year, and has a stellar junior single seater record. Magnussen has already stated earlier this year he cannot do another year of not racing and sitting on the sidelines. This will likely force McLaren to try and find him a drive with another F1 team, which will prove very difficult.
The team faces the same issue with the GP2 champion elect Stoffel Vandoorne. He has impressed in every junior racing category so far, and has exceeded McLaren’s expectations for him to win the title this year. He’s dominated the field with consistent podium placings, and he currently sitting a whopping 108 points ahead of fellow F1 hopeful Alex Rossi in 2nd. Surely Vandoorne will be in F1 next year, it’s simply a case of which team he will be driving for.
For McLaren they face a very tough decision over the coming months, as they have four legitimate F1 drivers yet only two seats to house them. With Fernando Alonso a cert for next year they now must decide if they are to honour Jenson Button’s contract for next year and retain his vast experience and speed. Or will they instead go with the young contender who appears destined for F1 in Stoffel Vandoorne. Kevin Magnussen is also waiting in the wings, although for McLaren, two of their drivers are likely to be disappointed by the time the new F1 season is rolling around next year.
Who should McLaren retain? Give your thoughts in the comment box below.