Jenson Button will come out of retirement to stand in for Fernando Alonso at the Monaco Grand Prix while the Spaniard contests the Indianapolis 500, the McLaren team has confirmed today.
“I was truly delighted when Jenson accepted our suggestion that he race at Monaco instead of Fernando,” McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier said.
“I know I speak on behalf of everyone at McLaren-Honda, and all our sponsor-partners and fans too, when I say that it’s great news for Jenson, for McLaren, for Honda, for our sponsor-partners, for Monaco, and for the sport of Formula 1.
“Jenson is a class act. He’s a superb driver – fast, smooth and precise – and he won’t have lost any of his competitive edge over the past few months.”
Button opted to take a sabbatical – which he publicly likened to a permanent retirement in spite of being under contract to the team in 2017 – to make way for McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne to make his full-time Formula 1 debut in 2017.
The team’s surprise decision to return to the Indy 500 with Alonso spearheading its efforts has now prompted Button – who contractually is required to stand in for either Alonso or Vandoorne if required – to emerge as the prime candidate to fill in for the Spaniard.
The 37-year-old has a strong track record at Monaco, winning the Grand Prix in 2009 on top of two other podium finishes.
“I’m thrilled to be making a one-off return to Formula 1 racing, and I couldn’t think of a better place to make that return than my adopted home Grand Prix: Monaco,” Button said.
“I’ve won the race before, in 2009, and it’s one of my all-time favourite racetracks. It’s a tricky street circuit on which a good driver can really make a difference – and, although the McLaren-Honda MCL32 hasn’t begun the season well, I think it may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando and Stoffel have raced it on so far this season.
“OK, I realise we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but I think we’ll have a opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings.”
Button, who is officially McLaren’s reserve driver, may not actually get to sample McLaren’s MCL32 car before the Monaco Grand Prix itself, with the team rather surprisingly confirming that it will run Vandoorne and Oliver Turvey at the two-day in-season test which immediately follows this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
“I’ll drive the MCL32 around Monaco in the McLaren sim beforehand, and I reckon I’ll be ready for the race after doing that,” Button explained.
“I’m supremely fit, having done a lot of triathlon training recently, so I have no worries on that score.”
Button’s return to racing will see him draw level with seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher’s tally of 306 Grand Prix starts, the second highest of all time behind Rubens Barrichello.
Images via McLaren Honda