The 2009 FIA Formula 1 drivers’ world champion, Jenson Button, is returning from retirement this weekend in Monaco for one last hurrah. “It feels slightly surreal to be back in the cockpit for the Monaco Grand Prix,” Button said. His teammate last year at Honda, Fernando Alonso, has been excused for this race so he can run in the Indy 500, which begins Sunday after noon ET.
Button, a former Monaco race winner who relinquished his seat at McLaren to Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne at the end of the 2016 race season, told Sky Sports television he was excited. “When the chance came to race in Monaco, I was going to take it.”
Button’s race at Formula 1 Monaco is dampened by the poor performance of the McLaren Honda. McLaren have not scored any points this year and are last in the constructors’ championship. At the Russian Grand Prix, Alonso failed to run a full race lap due to problems with the Honda power unit.
Honda returned to the FIA in 2015 under a works agreement with McLaren to supply V6 engines and kinetic energy recovery system units, but the storied team has been fraught with technical problems that have resulted in numerous DNFs. Alonso, a two-time F1 drivers’ champion, is reported to be discontented, not surprisingly.
It is largely understood that excusing Alonso from the Formula 1 Monaco race is a way to temporarily pacify and retain the driver, who has referred to the Honda engine variously as “embarrassing” and comparable to a “GP2 engine.” Looming out there is the one-year contract of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, a sought-after seat by many F1 drivers. Most fans would love to see a reprieve of the Hamilton/ Alonso team.
In the meantime, Button insists that he is feeling “no pressure at all” and is “very excited, relaxed, actually” to be back in F1, albeit temporarily.
“I don’t want to be racing in Formula 1 for a whole season because I’ve done my time in Formula 1. I’ve loved most of my career, but it was time for me to have a break. But to come back for the Monaco Grand Prix— I mean, that is just the dream for a racing driver. Coming in for a one-off race, in Monaco, the most glamorous Grand Prix on the calendar: it’s that excitement is back.”
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 24, 2017
Button sent Alonso a good message earlier in the month: “I’ll keep your seat warm in Monaco and get lots of juicy points for when you return and make you jealous that you didn’t race in Monaco.” Meanwhile, Alonso has performed well in his rookie run in preparation for the Indianapolis 500.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 21, 2017
Button’s return to Formula 1 Monaco does involve a bit of a learning curve, as this year’s cars are wider and can move faster through corners as a result of aerodynamic changes. The bigger tyres, too, affect overall car performance. “Preparation could have been better if I had had the opportunity to test the car at a proper test, but that’s not the way F1 works.”
“You jump into the simulator, and, after five laps, there’s that ‘OK, I’ve still got it then.’ I can still direct the car around the corners, and I still know how to change gear and push the brake pedal and modulate the throttle,” he said.
“That never leaves you.”