Tuesday 20 February 2018

Button set to bring 16-year F1 career to an end

Jenson Button is expected to call time on his glittering Formula One career after 16 seasons
Jenson Button is expected to call time on his glittering Formula One career after 16 seasons

Daniel Johnson

Jenson Button is expected to call time on his glittering Formula One career after 16 seasons by making an announcement before the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

Button has been in negotiations with McLaren over next year but it's understood that he has decided to bow out on his terms after another season in an uncompetitive car. The Englishman, 35, is expected to combine a sportscar drive in the Le Mans-style World Endurance Championship with a media career, rumoured to include the revamped 'Top Gear' programme.

Asked last night if he had made a decision, Button said: "Yes, my head knows. Whatever decision happens, I am happy."

Button has one world championship title, 15 victories and 50 podium finishes to his name, as well as 278 race starts, making him the third-most experienced driver of all time. The man whose career began in karting in Somerset, is likely to confirm his decision this weekend in Suzuka.

His wife, Jessica, is Japanese, and Button has a loyal following in the country. He treats the nation's Grand Prix as a second home race and would prefer to reveal the news there than in Russia next month, by which time McLaren's option on Button will have expired.

His future beyond Formula One is unclear. He has held talks with Porsche over joining their Le Mans-winning team, but it would need McLaren to release him from his contract. Rallycross also has its appeal.

His late father John - Button's biggest supporter who died at the start of last year - was a successful rallycross driver back in the seventies. He is also linked to Chris Evans's overhauled 'Top Gear' programme.

Button's exit, on his terms, highlights how far the team have fallen. When he joined the sport with Williams in 2000 as a teenager, McLaren were the drivers' champions with Mika Hakkinen, but now they are down in the doldrums.

After being made to wait until the final possible moment last year to be offered a new deal, Button spoke of challenging for the world title again with Honda now on board as the team's engine supplier. But this season has been an unmitigated disaster. With Honda unreliable and down on power, Button has scored points just twice, in Monaco and Hungary.

Lewis Hamilton, his former team-mate, left McLaren at the end of 2012 and has won 19 races since, while Button and McLaren have not scored a victory in that time. Hamilton has 252 points this season to Button's six.

Button has grown weary of touring around at the back. In recent weeks, he has indicated he does not think the McLaren-Honda partnership will be a competitive combination in time for him.

"It will happen, it's just how long it takes for everyone," he said.


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