Could Button remain in Formula 1 without McLaren?

Button

Fernando Alonso’s heavily rumoured switch to McLaren could force Jenson Button out of the team - but could he remain in F1?

It seems increasingly likely that Fernando Alonso will be a McLaren driver next season, which could spell the end of Jenson Button’s five-year stint with the team.

What’s more, there is a distinct possibility that leaving the Woking-based squad would signal the conclusion of his F1 career. After all, there is no opportunity to move up the grid, and Jenson has suggested that sliding towards the rear of the field does not appeal to him.

Despite Ron Dennis’ attempts at a poker face, it seems almost certain that Alonso is McLaren-bound. He has no other realistic option, and though he’s made strange decisions before one would expect the double world champion to see sense on this occasion.

And, with Fernando on board, Jenson is likely to be deemed surplus to requirements. He will be 35 next term and so offers only a short-term solution for McLaren. However his team-mate Kevin Magnussen is just 22. The Dane has been quick this year, albeit a little erratic, and McLaren are more likely to give him another season to prove himself.

You can’t really argue with that. As good as Button is, McLaren are now building a project for 2016 and beyond, not for next season. As such it makes sense to retain the promising youngster rather than the man in his mid-30s, even if he is still performing at a very high level.

But it is this that makes the prospect of Jenson departing the sport so tough to accept. He has been in fine form of late, perhaps his best in two years. He was fourth last time out in Russia and before that drove a superb race to fifth in Japan, displaying the skill in mixed conditions that has secured him some stellar triumphs for McLaren. Before that he was driving an excellent race in Singapore, the most physical track on the calendar, before a power unit problem robbed him of a top-five finish.

His recent performances make it clear that Button has plenty more to give the sport, even if he is now closer to the end of his career than the start. Could there be a way for him to remain in F1 next term without McLaren?

Unfortunately, the options to do so are few and far between. Mercedes have their line-up set for next term, as do Williams and Red Bull, while Sebastian Vettel is set to join Ferrari alongside Kimi Raikkonen. Add in McLaren, and you have the current top-five in the constructors’ standings.

Next up are Force India. There would be no shame in Button signing for the Silverstone-based squad. They’ve pushed McLaren extremely hard for fifth in the standings this term, and there is no reason they can’t keep that sort of form up in 2015.

But Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg look highly likely to remain on board for next season. What’s more, Force India have tended to run younger drivers whose wage packets are less hefty than a former world champ like Button.

And at this stage the Brit’s options become extremely sparse. We can rule out Toro Rosso, who will either pick from the Red Bull junior pool or re-hire Jean-Eric Vergne. Sauber, Marussia and Caterham can also clearly be discounted, as they require pay drivers and can’t match Button’s performance aspirations.

Which leaves just one team - but we shouldn’t rule them out just yet, even if it is pure conjecture.

Lotus may be in the midst of a dreadful year, but with a switch to Mercedes engines next term they should be a much better prospect, capable of fighting for points and, given fortunate circumstances, perhaps even podiums. Pastor Maldonado is already confirmed for 2015, but there is increasing speculation about the future of Romain Grosjean. Could Jenson step in and extend his F1 career?

Button is no stranger to the Enstone team: he drove for them in 2001 and 2002, when they were known as Benetton and Renault respectively. It’s a long shot, but this could convince him to give it one more go away from McLaren.

It seems unlikely, however, meaning Button’s F1 career could be just three races from its end. But Jenson isn’t letting that possibility get him down; in fact, he thinks his team-mate has it far harder.

"You shouldn't worry about me," Button reflected recently. "I am in a great place in my life right now and whatever happens next year I am happy.

"It was tough for a little while but it's not any more. It's tougher for my team-mate.

"I have been in the sport for a long time. I have won a world title and 15 races but Kevin is in his first season and there is more pressure on him to get a drive. I just hope they make the right decision."

We are getting increasingly close to that decision, with McLaren confirming they will announce their 2015 line-up before the season ends next month in Abu Dhabi. It could well be Button’s F1 swansong, and that would be a great shame. The Brit still has a great deal to give the sport; few would be disappointed to see him take on a final challenge elsewhere on the grid.