Jenson Button’s remarkable one-off comeback to Formula 1 in Monaco took a bittersweet turn through Saturday as he qualified ninth, only for the result to become academic thanks to a grid penalty.
While regular McLaren driver Fernando Alonso prepares for his debut in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, Button has been keeping the Spaniard’s Honda-powered MCL32 warm this weekend, seven months on from his last run-out in an F1 car.
Button impressed throughout practice, but was then able to make another step forward in qualifying to lead McLaren to its first double-Q3 finish of the year.
Button ended qualifying ninth ahead of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, but will drop all the way to the back of the grid by virtue of a 15-place penalty following an engine issue.
“It was a lot of fun out there. Practice was fine, but in qualifying you reach a point where you really need to fine-tune the car’s performance, and that’s still a bit of a learning curve for me,” Button said.
“This year’s tires are completely different to last year’s in terms of how they work, how they fade away, how they last. It’s been tricky trying to find those last few per cent.
“But I’m happy. In my one and only race this year I qualify ninth, and start 20th! I never expected to have this opportunity, so this is a great memory for me, driving around Monaco in these monsters, such great machines.
“I’m very lucky. I’ll take that ninth position home with me at the end of the weekend – I should be chuffed to bits with that.”
The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown starting on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET.
Porsche will skip Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race with its two GTLM cars at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after three positive COVID-19 tests were confirmed during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
That resulted in Porsche choosing to pull out of the Nurburgring 24 Hour endurance race in Germany, electing to avoid sending any team members as a precautionary measure.
Porsche Motorsport announced Tuesday that its COVID-19 decision also would apply at Mid-Ohio to its No. 911 and No. 12 teams.
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Three of Porsche’s four IMSA GTLM drivers — Laurens Vanthoor, Frederic Makowiecki and Nick Tandy — also were racing in Le Mans. The trio has remained isolated in Europe and won’t be allowed to travel.
“Based on yesterday’s decision that no employee or racing driver of our Le Mans team will participate in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, we have today decided that this ruling will also apply to the upcoming IWSC race in Mid-Ohio,” Fritz Enzinger, vice president for Porsche Motorsport, said in a release. “This means that Laurens, Nick and Fred will not be traveling to the USA.
“This is very regrettable, but we would like to emphasize that in this case as well the health of all those concerned is the prime focus of the decisions we have taken.”
The decision also affects Earl Bamber, who teamed with Vanthoor to win the GTLM championship last year in the No. 912.
Porsche said its GTLM Porsche 911 RSR-19 entries will return for the Oct. 10 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
That will reduce the GTLM class to four cars — two Corvettes and two BMWs — this weekend at Mid-Ohio, in what could be somewhat of a 2021 preview. Porsche Motorsport announced earlier this year that it will leave IMSA after the 2020 season because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.