2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne will finally get his chance at Formula 1 as Jenson Button steps down from his full-time race seat.
The 2009 champion confirmed the news after qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix that he has signed a new contract with the team, but in a reserve driver role with the option of racing again in 2018 should Fernando Alonso not wish to continue.
McLaren chairman Ron Dennis insisted that people should not take the news as a retirement, as Button will remain working with the team while taking his year off.
Button said the new deal he signed with McLaren was just what he needed.
“I will stay current, train my arse off, attending races to make sure things are on right track and input as much as I can,” Button said.
“I’ll spend more time with friends and family and live on my own schedule. I decided over summer break to not carry on racing.
“I’m really excited. I will do everything I can to make sure this team is competitive in 2017.”
“For a driver that’s been in the sport for so long and achieved what I’ve achieved, winning a world championship, winning many grands prix and podiums, it really is a dream to be able to have that rest and the possibility of racing in the future.
“This is something I’m very, very happy about and couldn’t be happier with the situation, to be fair.”
The man replacing Button, 24-year-old Vandoorne, won the 2015 GP2 championship convincingly, and was considered the hottest young property in recent years.
There were reports that if McLaren didn’t give the Belgian a race seat he could possibly take a drive with Williams, however, with Button declaring he needed some time away from racing and the team not wanting to lose a driver they’ve invested heavily in, Vandoorne will get his first full-time Formula 1 drive in 2017.
“First of all a little mention to Jenson. Jenson is a great inspiration to any racing driver and he’s been a very big part of this team, and very happy to see him continue with us,” Vandoorne said.
“We know his experience will be incredibly valuable to us and I hope we will have a very successful time together.”
The man Vandoorne will be partnered with next year, Fernando Alonso, yesterday labelled Button as the best driver he has worked with and is looking forward to Vandoorne’s fresh input to the development of the car.
“Well, first of all we will obviously have Jenson in the team which is the most important thing when talking about the drivers’ line-up for next year,” Alonso said.
“I have been working with Jenson for the last two years, it was fantastic work and probably… not probably, I can say he is the best teammate I ever had in terms of performance, feedback with engineers, and the car development.
“The best news of this announcement, this change, is that we will have Stoffel in the car with fresh ideas to push the team to the maximum, but also we still have Jenson around us, helping us, giving all his contributions. It’s very good news for the future. I am ready and I am looking forward to Australia.”
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