McLaren keep Jenson Button: Shameful conduct but correct decision
McLaren have announced their driver line-up for 2015, bringing a belated end to a shambolic saga that threatened to overshadow the coup of wrestling Fernando Alonso away from Ferrari.
Jenson Button can now look ahead to tussling with the Spaniard in his 16th season in Formula One as the Woking-based outfit seek a first constructors’ title since the days Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
"Oh and some bloke called Fernando Alonso @alo_oficial (2x World Champ) joined the team, I hear he's pretty good! #Legend— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) December 11, 2014"
McLaren’s conduct during the deliberations was shameful – failing to reach a prompt conclusion, effectively leaving Kevin Magnussen with no choice but to sign on as reserve driver, while having no problem wheeling out Button and the young Dane at corporate events.
Their saving grace is that they picked the right man to partner Alonso.
Button out-performed Magnussen last year (126 points v 55 pts) and, at 34 years old, is only 18 months older than Alonso – the man Ron Dennis had probably initially intended to replace him. Magnussen may have youth on his side, a full 12 years, and has impressed the McLaren setup with his raw pace, but his results from 2014 don’t merit immediate inclusion.
An impressive drive in Melbourne secured Magnussen a podium spot on his debut, but his form collapsed from then on as he collected just one more top-six finish. By contrast, Button secured 10 top-six placings and in the latter half of 2014 displayed a hunger that was surely the difference between an F1 seat and a spot in the World Endurance Championship.
Button’s already proved he’s one of the best on the grid in changeable conditions and Magnussen can now learn from the Brit from the less demanding role of reserve driver. It's the perfect outcome for McLaren, even if they did alienate both drivers in the process.
"No caption needed... #NeverGiveUpOnTheDreampic.twitter.com/L8O6rwD2RY— Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) December 11, 2014"
Not that the Dane should be expecting an elevated role anytime soon. There’s no reason why Button’s stay should only be a one or two-year venture. The Brit has the talent to challenge Alonso when the car is hopefully competing for race wins, whether that happens in 2015 or later.
Button is rarely given the credit he deserves. His 2009 world championship crown with Brawn GP is often overlooked after he effectively clinched the title after seven races – winning six of them in a vastly superior car – before desperately hunting down the odd point to get over the line as the other teams closed the gap.
But he did have opposition, in the form of team-mate Rubens Barrichello – the most experienced driver in F1 history with 322 race starts. Sadly, as we have seen with alarming regularity since the turn of the century, it is impossible to win the championship without a decent car.
Not that having the best car guarantees the title. Just ask Mark Webber or, more recently, Nico Rosberg. Should we strike off two of Vettel’s titles (2011 and 2013) due to Red Bull’s dominance? How about a chunk of Michael Schumacher’s haul of seven? Of course not.
He may only have one world crown, but Button might have competed for more titles had he not spent his early career hopping between midfield teams before standing by Honda during their dark years.
McLaren now boast a partnership capable of rivalling Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg and Ferrari pair Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Two men capable of delivering both individual and constructors’ title given the right tools.
It's now down to McLaren to prove that Button was right to stay in F1.
Ben Snowball - @BenSnowball