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Button on the Brink? Or primed for a move?

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Button on the Brink? Or primed for a move?
Jul 8, 2015, 11:49 PM

Just months after the dust has settled on the 'will he, won't he retire' merry-go-round, Jenson Button's future at McLaren Honda is once again the...

Just months after the dust has settled on the 'will he, won't he retire' merry-go-round, Jenson Button's future at McLaren Honda is once again the topic of much paddock speculation.

When he finally fended off Kevin Magnussen for the remaining seat alongside Fernando Alonso last winter, Button might have hoped the questions about his future would have ended for the time being at least but the pace of change in F1 is such that he finds himself once again the centre of unwanted attention.

Despite McLaren Honda's ongoing technical problems and Button's relative strength of performance, McLaren boss Ron Dennis felt moved to deflect attention away from the issue in recent days, declaring, "Jenson Button has a two-year contract with McLaren.

"We are not even thinking about drivers at the moment. Both of them are doing an amazing job."

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - British Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Silverstone, England

However, the bottleneck of up and coming drivers in the McLaren system, and the 35 year-old's status as second oldest driver on the current F1 grid to similarly under pressure Kimi Raikkonen inevitably leads to ongoing discussion about his future.

It's understood that McLaren have an option on the services of the man from Frome, Somerset for 2016 but no obligation to provide him with a race seat. However, there can be little criticism of the way he has matched up to Fernando Alonso so far this year.

While Button has been edged by Alonso 4-3 in qualifying sessions where both have recorded a time the Englishman has the best Saturday result of the year, 12th fastest in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.

That race also provided himself and his team with their best result to date from a difficult campaign, a four-point haul for eighth place, two places better than Alonso's best in Silverstone last weekend.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - British Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Silverstone, England

McLaren's difficulties in the early stages of its relationship with Honda have been tough to endure for their world champion drivers who have loftier expectations than fighting to escape Q1 in qualifying, but both drivers have stayed 'on message'.

While Button, who is usefully possessed of an affable nature that makes him popular with fans and sponsors alike, came close to expressing his frustration in Canada, he has continued to chant the "lose as a team, win as a team" mantra required in his public utterances.

However, despite Dennis's comments, it seems unlikely that McLaren have already made a final decision on their driver lineup for 2016.

While Kevin Magnussen, a favourite of Ron Dennis, stood in for the indisposed Alonso at the first round in Australia, the Dane could find him usurped as the 'driver-in-waiting' by the dominant force in GP2 racing, Stoffel Vandoorne.

The 23-year-old has taken four victories at the wheel of an ART-run machine from five double-header meetings so far this season and enjoys a comfortable lead in the main F1 feeder series standings.

The Belgian's racing is underwritten by McLaren who may feel that 2016 is the right time to start reaping a return on their investment. Certainly Vandoorne himself believes he is ready.

"I definitely do feel ready for F1," said Vandoorne yesterday. "I've been testing an F1 car last year with McLaren. That went very well.

"I drove the [McLaren-Honda] in Austria and that went great. It rained in the morning but the afternoon went without any problems. I do feel ready for Formula 1.

"I do have regular talks with Ron and Eric and they have made it clear to me that winning GP2 is my main focus this season. That is the place where I can prove myself at the moment. It's most important for me to win this championship at the moment.

"Of course I want to be in F1 next year, it's what I've been working for since I was a kid, but GP2 is the main focus at the moment. I do have a contract with McLaren and I'm fully focused on doing the job and what I am asked to do."

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - British Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Silverstone, England

As for Button, some have suggested that Dennis's comments disguise the fact that it is Button who is looking at other options for 2016 and that the 15-time race winner may be scouting around for a more competitive drive.

With Valtteri Bottas said to be in the frame for a move to Ferrari in place of Raikkonen, perhaps Williams, for whom Button began his career back in 2000 might provide a neat way to bookend his time in F1.

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