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Button ‘chuffed to bits’ with Monaco F1 qualifying despite grid penalty

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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.

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”