Jenson Button says he feels well-prepared to make his one-off return to Formula 1 in this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix despite not yet driving the 2017-spec McLaren car.
Button stepped back from his McLaren seat at the end of 2016 and looked to have made his last F1 appearance, having agreed to remain with the team as an ambassador and reserve driver if requied.
The 2009 F1 world champion was called into action by McLaren following Fernando Alonso’s shock decision to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500, skipping the Monaco Grand Prix in order to do so.
Button made his first appearance in the F1 paddock since last November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Wednesday, facing questions in the FIA’s pre-race press conference which he answered with a mix of good humor and, at times, sarcasm.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding Button’s return has been his level of preparation, with the Briton turning down the offer to test the MCL32 car last month following the Bahrain Grand Prix – meaning his first taste of F1’s new-style 2017 cars will come on Thursday in Monaco practice.
Button isn’t worried, though, believing the additional running in Bahrain wouldn’t have benefitted him a great deal given the drastically different nature of the circuit.
“Preparation has been good, apart from I haven’t driven the car with these new regulations,” Button acknowledged.
“So it’s not perfect, but the option was to do half a day in Bahrain which I thought was absolutely useless for me to do, completely different type of circuit.
“I said to the team I think it’s best if I do a few days in the simulator. Obviously as drivers we love the simulator, so I was raring to go… I spent a lot of time in the simulator just getting a feel for it.
“It’s been interesting. Most of the stuff’s the same, but there are a few things that are obviously different. Different in regulations and it changes from year to year, technology and what have you.
“A few things to learn, but it’s still a racing car. Just got to get used to [the car] being a bit wider.”
Button’s return comes at a time when McLaren is at a low point – quite literally – as it sits at the bottom of the constructors’ championship with a score of zero following the first five races of the season.
Much of the team’s struggles have stemmed from its Honda power unit, which has lacked both reliability and performance so far this season, leaving Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne ailing in races.
Monaco is set to present McLaren its best chance yet of points, with the tight and twisting nature of the street course making any frailties on the engine side seem less severe.
Yet for Button, there is no pressure to get McLaren off the mark in 2017 and overhaul Sauber, who recently moved off the foot of the teams’ table following Pascal Wehrlein’s run to eighth in Spain.
“Definitely not,” Button said when asked if he felt under any pressure for his comeback. “I’m very relaxed. Very excited, actually. It’s interesting coming back for one grand prix. It being Monaco, it’s very special.
“I’ve won here before, I’ve lived here for 17 years. I’ve had some really good experiences here. It’s exciting. But I don’t feel any pressure, not at all. I will get in the car and do the best job I can, that’s what I’m here to do.
“And everything I do in life is the same. You want to be competitive, you want to be getting the best out of yourself and the best out of the equipment and the team you are working with. So that hasn’t changed.
“The car seemed to be working well in Barcelona in qualifying. Fernando did a good job, but I think it still proves the car itself is working well. I drove in the simulator and I drove the upgrade, which I was misquoted on, by the way. I drove that upgrade and it was a definite improvement.
“There are more improvements here as well. If it’s all straightforward this weekend then we should be reasonably competitive.”