At the 2016 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Jenson Button announced that he wouldn’t be racing in F1 in 2017. Many had assumed that without a seat on the grid next year retirement would be imminent, but thanks to some blue sky thinking from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis, that might not be the case.
With Stoffel Vandoorne – who successfully stood in for an injured Fernando Alonso at the Bahrain Grand Prix back in April – taking Button’s place, the 2009 world champion will be retained as a reserve driver and McLaren ambassador next season.
The move will allow the team to promote a youngster whose chance to race in F1 is long overdue, and will also give Button a much needed break after 17 consecutive years in the sport.
On top of that, McLaren will have perhaps the most overqualified reserve driver F1 has ever known, and their two-year deal with Button may also prove to be a useful bargaining chip should Fernando Alonso wish to negotiate a contract extension for 2018 and beyond.
So it might not be the end of the road for the 36-year-old.
But if this season does prove to be his last, in Button’s own words he will have nothing left to prove. Once dismissed as a “playboy” by Flavio Briatore at Benetton, the British driver once told us that’d he’d trade in the flamboyant lifestyle for a maiden win in a heartbeat.
He had to wait longer than most – 113 races to be precise – but his first victory was followed three years later by an extraordinary world title, earned off the back of a pre-season where Honda’s departure left his entire career in jeopardy.
That’s ancient history now. Button has since raced alongside Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – two of the greatest drivers of their era – at McLaren, and more than held his own against both.
JB isn’t quite in their league: a reliance on a stable rear end has seen him struggle in situations where more adaptable drivers have thrived. But the fact that he has measured up to F1’s very best talents, coupled with a reputation for flourishing in wet conditions, should leave fans in no doubt about just how good he is.
F1 will be all the poorer when he does eventually hang up his boots.
So as he embarks upon his 300th GP this weekend in Malaysia, here are five occasions JB excelled…