A report out from the BBC Friday indicates Jenson Button could well move to the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015.
Button’s manager, Richard Goddard, called the WEC a “formidable series that is gaining strength” and added of his F1 prospects for next season, “Jenson is an incredibly competitive racing driver who wants to race. He’s too good to sit at the back of the F1 grid. So he either gets a competitive car in F1 or he goes to get one elsewhere.”
It could well be a bargaining chip for McLaren to raise the stakes, or it could prove alluring enough to where Button could make the switch.
To be honest, Button may not have much of a choice when it comes to formidable options on the F1 grid for 2015, and he may consider a move to the WEC more of a challenge and a better opportunity at this point in his career.
Consider the “competitive car in F1” options at the moment. Rooms are not available at the Mercedes-power unit inns; Mercedes is expected to continue with the Constructor’s Championship winning pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for at least another year; the same is true for Williams with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas; Force India looked to the pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez as a long-term bet.
The other teams you’d consider “competitive cars” – by history anyway if not by outright 2014 standards – are Red Bull and Ferrari. And they’re booked up.
Red Bull has confirmed its lineup of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat – who combined are age 45, only 11 less than Button’s 34 – and Ferrari’s likely pairing of Sebastian Vettel and the one driver still older than Button on the grid, Kimi Raikkonen.
Lotus is a wild card, and a spot could open there if Romain Grosjean shifts. However even though the team will get the Mercedes power units in 2015, there’s no assurance of improved form and the team pulling a complete 180-degree turn on its challenging 2014.
So essentially Button is left with a “McLaren or bust” option for 2015. There’s no guarantee the Honda power unit will be great from the get-go and for Button’s sake, he may not be up for that sort of challenge if it’s not up to par.
Button and Honda have a history of course, and his career was hanging in the balance the last time Honda’s state of play in F1 was concerned – when the factory team bailed at the end of 2008, and Button in the reborn Brawn GP team, with Mercedes engines, scored the 2009 World Championship.
So it’s fascinating to consider that six years later, Button’s in a similar position – unsure of his future in the sport that he’s raced since 2000 – and left in the balance by a Honda-influenced team’s decision.
We’re not going to write the Button’s done in F1 story yet, but he’s at the point where he’s accomplished all that could be achieved over a successful and popular 15 years in the sport.
In 265 races (263 starts), Button has 15 wins, 50 podiums, that 2009 championship. In the last two years as team leader at McLaren with Hamilton having moved on, Button has generally outpaced and out-pointed younger teammates Perez and Kevin Magnussen, although Magnussen’s found his form of late in qualifying.
You’d always rather leave when you’re still close to the top of your peak, and fighting races like Button has produced at Silverstone, Suzuka and Sochi this season show he’s still got the tenacity and grit desired to make it work.
But we could well be seeing the beginning of the end of Button’s career; perhaps even the final three races if a plum factory LMP1 ride in WEC presents itself. There’s four options, with Audi, Toyota, Porsche and new for 2015, Nissan.
Best to enjoy him while we still can in F1, if the allure of an LMP1 prototype comes calling or McLaren opts not to keep him into 2015.