Having raced in F1 for the last sixteen years of his life, Jenson Button, one of the paddocks most likeable characters, is ready to take a break and some down time from the sport that he loves, in 2017.
The now 36-year-old has struck an innovative and first deal of its kind in F1, with the McLaren-Honda F1 team, which will see the Brit take a one year sabbatical from the sport, whilst drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne get behind the wheel of the car in 2017.
Button will remain on at the Woking based squad as an ‘Ambassador’, completing development role duties in the background, which will involve working on the car, simulator and spending time at some race weekends, and could even see him return to the forefront in two years’ time, as McLaren-Honda have an option to utilise his driving skills in 2018 as part of the deal.
The unique role leaves the Brit free to do whatever he likes for the rest of the time, and it is this freedom to plan his own schedule that the 2009 world champion has craved for a while now.
Speaking in an interview with Sky Sports recently, Button expressed how perfect the arrangement is for him.
“Motorsport has been my life since I was seven and it’s the best job in the world – it really is. But even with the best job in the world you need rest. Grand prix are a massive part of my life, before and after grand prix with recovery and preparation, so it’s nice to have a bit of me time and family time.
“Then if we get two thirds of the way through next year and I want to go racing, and the team still want me, I’ll be racing in 2018. So it’s the perfect situation. For every guy who’s raced in Formula 1 for a long time, this is the dream contract they could have.”
Re-charging the old batteries is something Button feels he really needs right now after sixteen non-stop years of racing and all it entails since 2000, as well as spending some much needed time with family and friends, something that he has missed being able to do due to the hectic lifestyle being a F1 driver brings. Button was able to get re-acquainted with that notion during the recent summer break, and it is that holiday that prompted his discussions with McLaren CEO Ron Dennis.
To keep himself fit and race ready, in case he needs to jump back into the car at any given moment, considering Alonso has had to miss races for the last two seasons in a row due to injury, the Brit will need to carefully consider what he will spend his free time doing in 2017. There are a number of options open to the 36-year-old, who has stated that racing in other areas of motorsport could be an option for him in the future.
Karting and Rallycross in particular are a big love of Button’s, his father John having been a championship contender in that arena back in the 1970’s, and the Brit has stated that he would not rule out giving them a go at some point in his life.
“I’ll definitely do some karting in the future and probably rallycross as well, that I’m very fond of and it’s very close to my heart.”
At a recent Esso sponsor event, where he and fellow McLaren men, Alonso, Vandoorne, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, raced against each other at the Spaniard’s kart track, the Brit was hit with the karting bug, and was keen to race on that kind of level once again.
But the Brit has also stated that there are other motorsport options open to him, such as the Super GT Championship in Japan, which he has shown an interest in previously.
As is well known by Button fans, competing in Triathlon’s is a favourite pastime of the Brit too, and the 36-year-old has mentioned that he could also partake in the Triathlon World Championships, alongside the likes of the Brownlee brothers, during his downtime.
The world is pretty much Button’s oyster, but after only announcing his decision to step down from racing recently, it is unlikely that he himself really knows what he is going to do in his ‘gap year’ from F1.
The deal he has in place with McLaren, does give the Brit some thinking time, to mull over whether he really still wants to drive in F1. He obviously does not feel ready to retire, having stated in numerous interviews that this is definitely not what he is doing, and with Alonso being such an unpredictable character at times, it is very plausible that he himself could retire at the end of next year too.
If the McLaren is still uncompetitive and Alonso is not happy with the way F1 is headed following the rule changes in 2017, he may jump ship, and having an up-to-speed Button ready to step in at the drop of a hat is an ideal solution.
Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that Jenson Button will be seriously missed on next year’s F1 grid, but in some guise or other we hopefully have not seen the last of him just yet!