Button top-five caps off end of what could be several eras at McLaren

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One era has ended for sure at McLaren, and another is in question at the end of today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Jenson Button has definitively signed off the McLaren-Mercedes 20-year period together with the package’s final top-five finish, fifth after starting sixth. Honda returns to Formula One with McLaren next season.

The question that looms larger though is whether this was Button’s 266th and final Grand Prix start after 15 years, and that is a question set to be unanswered until December 1 at least.

Button started nicely from sixth and up to fourth straightaway, following rough starts for Valtteri Bottas’ Williams and Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso ahead of him.

Button’s McLaren teammate, Kevin Magnussen, had his race compromised before it ever really got going following contact with Adrian Sutil’s Sauber exiting the Turn 7 hairpin on the opening lap.

An early pit stop briefly sent Button back to the lower regions of the top 10 but he made it back up to fifth as the race progressed.

“That was tough! I think we made the best of what we had this evening: in terms of strategy, we did the right thing, but we never really had enough pace to attack the cars in front,” Button said.

“So, fifth was as good as it was going to be. Getting the maximum from the car is all that can be asked of a racing driver, and I think I’ve proved this year that I’m still at the top of my game.”

Magnussen’s suspension could have been compromised but the car held intact for the remainder of his race. The Danish rookie ended just outside the points in 11th.

“That was a difficult race. I had quite a bit of contact with Adrian [Sutil] on the first lap – and, after that, the front of the car never felt quite right, but it wasn’t too bad, so I could carry on,” he said.

“My opening stint on the Prime went well – the tire was holding on well and I felt like I could manage the degradation. But once I’d pitted and changed to the Option, the race slipped away from us. The softer tyre ought to have helped us gain some positions over the drivers running the Prime, but we just stayed where we were, and that ruined the race for us.”

Today’s result follows recent form for both drivers. Button has ended the season with four top-fives in the final five races, and considering the McLaren chassis hasn’t been quite the level of the McLaren and Williams, he’s maximized it as best he could if not exceeded it.

Magnussen has been respectable but not otherworldly, and he hasn’t beat Button head-to-head on race day when both have finished since Austria back in June (seventh to 11th).

With Fernando Alonso’s likely arrival only a matter of time, and McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne likely to stay in GP2 for another season, it will likely come down to one of the two current drivers alongside in 2015.

On pure form alone, dropping Button would seem to be a mistake. But the Englishman has enjoyed his last weekend of the season regardless, and like Mark Webber a year ago in Brazil, finished his year with a decent result.

While McLaren’s driver lineup decision has been the subject of consternation in the paddock, the team did provide a nice and gracious gesture at the end of today’s race, wishing former driver Hamilton a congratulatory message after the Englishman secured his second World Championship.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.