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McLaren F1 confirms Button as Alonso’s Monaco GP replacement

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McLaren has confirmed that 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button will make a return to racing at next month’s Monaco Grand Prix, deputizing for Fernando Alonso.

Alonso announced on Wednesday that he would be entering the 101st Indianapolis 500 as part of a joint entry between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport, opting to skip the Monaco F1 race.

McLaren said that it was still exploring a number of options regarding Alonso’s replacement, and hoped to make an announcement by the end of the month.

A deal has now been struck to bring Button back into a full-time seat for Monaco, with the Briton having stepped back from a racing role at the end of last year to become a McLaren ambassador and its reserve driver.

Button’s return was confirmed on Friday morning by McLaren in Bahrain.

“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 [Vandoorne] have raced it on so far this season.

“OK, I realize we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but I think we’ll have an opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings.”

Despite not enjoying any track time in a car since the end of last season, Button is confident that he will be fit enough to race the faster, more aggressive 2017 McLaren MCL32 model, and relishes the prospect of trying out the new runner.

“But most of all I’m looking forward to pitting myself against the unique racing challenge that is the Monaco Grand Prix,” Button said.

“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. I’m supremely fit, having done a lot of triathlon training recently, so I have no worries on that score.

“And it’ll be nice to say ‘hi’ to all my old Formula 1 mates too, and hopefully to give the fans something to cheer about.”

Button raced for McLaren between 2010 and 2016 before announcing last September that he would be moving back from his seat to open up a role for junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne.

Button signed a two-year deal with McLaren to remain a brand ambassador and reserve driver, including an option to return to F1 full-time in 2018 should both sides be willing.

Nevertheless, Button was treating last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi as his final F1 race, saying at the time that the option on 2018 was signed in case he regretted his decision to call it quits.

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.