Apparently, Felipe Massa won’t be the only senior F1 driver who won’t be returning next season. Neither, as it turns out, will Jenson Button.
Instead of racing with McLaren-Honda next season, or switching to another team, the former world champion has opted to take a back seat. He’ll stick with McLaren for another couple of seasons at least, but instead of actively racing, he’ll dedicate his talents and energies towards development, while also serving as a brand ambassador and reserve driver should he be needed.
His replacement will be Stoffel Vandoorne. The 24-year-old Belgian driver has been in the McLaren Young Driver Programme since 2013, serving as the team’s test driver the past two seasons and racing in Japan’s Super Formula series under Honda power this season. Vandoorne won the GP2 Series title last year, making him the strongest contender to move up to the big leagues – and now that moment has come.
He’ll be driving alongside Fernando Alonso, who returns to the team for the third straight season. The shakeup in its drivers lineup isn’t the only major personnel change taking effect at McLaren, either, as former Volkswagen/Ford rally chief Jost Capito arrives at the team as its new CEO.
Born in 1979 and 1981, respectively, and with contracts in place for next year, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso remain the oldest drivers on the grid, well ahead of 31-year-old Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who were both both in ’85.
Surprising as it may be to see a former world champ walk off the grid for good, the arrangement is not unheard of. Since retiring, Mika Hakkinen has served as a driver-at-large for both McLaren and its longtime partner Mercedes. Michael Schumacher played key behind-the-scenes roles for both Ferrari and Mercedes following his retirements as well. And ten years now since retiring, David Coulthard has remained closely associated with the Red Bull team he helped get off the ground. In that context, it’s not hard to see Button playing an elder-statesman role with McLaren instead of stretching out his career at another team, such as Williams, as Massa has until now.