Stoffel Vandoorne has been confirmed as a full-time McLaren driver from the 2017 Formula 1 season alongside Fernando Alonso, after Jenson Button confirmed he would be stepping down from a race seat.
McLaren announced on Saturday following qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix that Button would be moving into a development and ambassadorial role, freeing up a seat for Vandoorne.
“McLaren-Honda today announces an innovative three-driver strategy for the 2017 and 2018 Formula 1 seasons,” a statement from the team reads.
“World champion and 15-time grand prix winner Jenson Button has signed a new contract to extend his relationship with the McLaren-Honda team, is now contracted for two more years, and will consequently continue to play an active role as a key member of the team.
“McLaren-Honda’s two race drivers for 2017 will be double world champion and 32-time grand prix winner Fernando Alonso, and the most talented and exciting young driver in the sport today, Stoffel Vandoorne.”
“I’m delighted that I’ll be staying on as a key member of the McLaren-Honda team,” Button said.
“In fact I’m massively excited about my new role, which has come about as a result of a number of in-depth chats with Ron. Specifically, I’m looking forward to becoming even more deeply involved in the team’s efforts to bring about the success we’ve all been striving to deliver.
“I love McLaren-Honda – I firmly believe it’s made up of the best bunch of people I’ve ever worked with – and I have no intention of ever driving for another Formula 1 team.
“To be clear, I’m very definitely not retiring. I’m contracted for both 2017 and 2018, I intend to work hard on car-development, and I’m sure I’ll get behind the wheel of the new car at some point.”
“First of all, I want to express my gratitude to everyone at McLaren-Honda, and especially Ron, for showing faith in me,” Vandoorne said after the announcement.
“I’ve signed loads of autographs in my career, but, when I inked my signature on my McLaren-Honda contract today, it’s safe to say I had an exceptionally special feeling as I picked up my pen to do so.
“It’s an enormous honour to become a McLaren-Honda race driver, and I promise to work as hard as any Formula 1 driver ever has before.
“I already know the team extremely well – they’re a fantastic group of extremely clever people – and I’ve already raced the car once and tested it often. I have total confidence in the potential of the McLaren-Honda project, and I firmly believe that, racing alongside a brilliant and experienced driver, I’ll be able to make a strong contribution to the team’s future world championship successes.
“I’m not saying when that’ll happen, but I’m confident that that’s what the McLaren-Honda team will achieve, and I’m determined to do my bit.
“There are a lot of other people whom I’d like to take this opportunity to thank – too many to list in fact. So all I can say is: you know who you are, and thank you.”
Vandoorne made his F1 debut with McLaren in Bahrain earlier this year, replacing Alonso when the Spaniard was ruled out through injury.
The 2015 GP2 Series champion will now get the chance to spend a full season in F1, while Alonso will enter the final year of his contract.
Button and McLaren confirmed in the press conference at Monza that there is an option for him to race once again in 2018, should both parties be wiling.
Button had been linked with a move to Williams for 2017 or retiring from F1 altogether, but few would have expected such a deal to be struck as the one announced today.
This way, McLaren ensures that Button’s experience and knowledge is still a key part in its development while also giving Vandoorne a chance to showcase his recognized talent.
The option for 2018 is also interesting. With Alonso’s contract expiring at the end of 2017 and the Spaniard repeatedly saying that he could quit F1 if next year’s cars aren’t to his liking, Button’s presence gives McLaren a known quantity to draft back in if required.