McLaren CEO Jonathan Neale has said that the team must respect whatever decision Jenson Button makes about his future in Formula 1 as speculation about the Briton retiring from the sport continues to swirl.
Button had been tipped to announce ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix that he would be walking away from F1 at the end of the season.
However, he confirmed on Thursday that he was still engaged in “good talks” with the team about his future, suggesting that he could still be on the grid in 2016.
In Friday’s team personnel press conference, Neale re-affirmed that McLaren is keen to keep Button for 2016, but that it must respect the decision that Button takes.
“I get the sense from the media there was a big anti-climax yesterday and there was a lot of discussion about where Jenson was at,” Neale said.
“Jenson is a fantastic guy, a world champion and a big part of the family at Honda and McLaren – he’s been with us for six seasons – and we’re contracted with him, we want him to stay, we like him very much.
“But if your driver doesn’t really want to be in the seat we have to respect that. I really hope that we have done enough between us to continue those discussions with him and have the confidence to have him with us, and that’s what we’d like.”
Despite appearing to hint that Button had already made up his mind and wanted to leave McLaren, Neale clarified his comments when speaking to NBCSN following the press conference.
“Given the speculation that has been around and some of the things that Jenson has said, it can’t be of great surprise to either you or the audience that there is some reflection or introspection going on in Jenson,” Neale said.
“That’s what my quote was and I’m merely stating what I think is the blindingly obvious. We have a contract with Jenson, there’s no ambiguity about that.
“We really like Jenson, he’s been a fantastic driver and ambassador. He’s had some fearsome teammates, recently in Lewis and now with Fernando, and even though we’re having a troubling year, it’s a fantastic environment in which to move the programme forwards.
“We’ve learned a lot from both Jenson and Fernando together. I’d like to keep it like that, but, if there’s introspection and reflection going on, I have to respect that.”