By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
McLaren have announced their driver line up 2017.
Former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button is set leave his race seat and will be replaced by McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Button will remain with the team as an ambassador for and their reserve driver, with an option to return to the F1 championship in 2018.
This unique arrangement allows for Button to recharge his batteries after 17 years and 297 F1 Grand Prix starts. Ron Dennis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for McLaren, was clear to point out that Button had other offers but chose to remain with McLaren. This was in reference to the speculation that the Brit might return to Williams Racing in 2017.
“I love McLaren-Honda and I have no intention of ever driving for another Formula 1 team,” Button said. “To be clear, I’m very definitely not retiring. I’m contracted for both 2017 and 2018, I intend to work hard on car-development, and I’m sure I’ll get behind the wheel of the new car at some point.”
The Brit has had a career that includes 15 wins, 8 poles and 50 podiums. This includes his single world championship with Brawn GP in 2009. As former teammate Lewis Hamilton stated in his reaction to the announcement, Button’s contribution to F1 was “extraordinary.”
The immediate thought is that retaining Button allows for some sort of golden parachute should Fernando Alonso leave McLaren, or Formula 1, after the 2017 season. Alonso has remarked that if the 2017 car does not deliver more exciting racing, he will leave the Formula and race in another category.
With Vandoorne, it should come as no surprise to anyone, as the reserve driver has been slated all year to occupy a race seat at McLaren in 2017. The question was always who would be displaced and now we know that it is Button.
Vandoorne, the reining GP2 Champion, is another of the young guns who will most likely occupy a race seat in Formula 1 for many years to come. He made his F1 debut this year in Bahrain when he replaced the injured Fernando Alonso. The Belgian driver out-qualified teammate Button and brought the car home in 10th position gathering McLaren’s first points of the season.
With the swap between Button and Vandoorne, McLaren are well placed to continue their upward rise toward competing for the Formula 1 title.