Jenson Button has confirmed that he is to step down from his McLaren race seat at the end of the season, effectively swapping places with current reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne.
The experienced British World Champion will be staying at McLaren though, despite having offers from other Formula One teams – widely thought to have been Williams, taking up a reserve role and ambassador for the McLaren group.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis confirmed the news at a press conference in Monza on Saturday afternoon, “McLaren-Honda’s race driver line-up next season will be Fernando and Stoffel – a perfectly balanced mix of proven brilliance and immense potential,” said Dennis.
“But, before I speak on the subject of either of them, I want to talk about Jenson. As a race driver for our team these past seven seasons, he’s been superb, both on and off the track. And, as we’re seeing this season, he remains superb – not only fast and fit but also experienced and expert. He’ll start his 298th Grand Prix tomorrow; as such, he’s the most experienced driver on the grid.
“Having extended his contract to include 2017 and 2018, he’ll continue to be a senior, influential and committed member of the team, and will remain centrally involved in the development of our cars. He’ll also be available to race for us if circumstances require it.
“On behalf of all at McLaren-Honda, I want to say how thrilled we are that Jenson has extended his contractual relationship with us. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that the depth of his experience and the currency of his expertise will give us an advantage over our opposition next season.
“As for Fernando, 2017 will be his third year as a McLaren-Honda race driver, and I need hardly reaffirm his credentials here. So let me simply restate my belief that he’s one of the finest and fastest Grand Prix drivers I’ve ever seen, and we’re very proud to have him in the team.
“He’s been both diligent and patient over the past two seasons, and he shares with all of us at McLaren-Honda the confidence that 2017 will be the season in which our partnership begins to deliver strong results.
“Stoffel has been a member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme since February 2013, and was appointed our Test and Development Driver 11 months later.
“Over the past two-and-a-half years he’s made a very valuable contribution in that role, learning from his two World Champion team-mates as well as from our many world-class engineers, and, having been runner-up in World Series by Renault in 2013 and the run-away winner of the GP2 Championship last year, he’s now completed with distinction a meticulously designed apprenticeship.
“He’s consequently now ready to race in Formula 1, as his fine Grand Prix debut in Bahrain this year proved.”
Jenson Button, having been in Formula One since 2000 thanked his fans in a video, although a return hasn’t been ruled out if Fernando Alonso chooses to retire for the 2018 season.