Vandoorne confirmed in 2017 McLaren seat as Button steps down

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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.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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