Hill, who spoke with Button at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, said: “My gut feeling is that he’ll call it a day. He’s had a long period doing this and doing something different maybe has more appeal.”
Hill, an analyst for Sky Sports who, like Button, has one world championship to his name, added: “If you’ve won one world title you’re only interested in winning another, not just in taking part. And up against Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull, it would be extraordinary if McLaren pulled a rabbit out of the hat next year. They are looking at another season of consolidation and slight improvement.
“I’m not certain about this. He may stay but when we spoke with him he was at ease with whatever was coming his way. He was quite happy and relaxed and jovial and jocular, not thinking: ‘How am I going to win the world championship with this team?’”
Button has refused to confirm the rumour he is about to bring down the curtain on a 16-year career but his body language suggested the end will come in the next week or two.
After yet another retirement, at Singapore, the 35-year-old said: “My head knows but my mouth and tongue doesn’t know. The joy of being in the car is only there if you’re fighting at the front, because you feel like you’re achieving something. If you’re fighting near the back you’re driving an F1 car, but you can easily get joy driving something else. The joy you get is competing. It’s about fighting at the front. It’s about the possibility of standing on top of the podium. That’s the joy of Formula One.”
But it is a joy Button has not experienced since Brazil at the end of the 2012 season. He had three good seasons with McLaren when he joined the team in 2010, the year after winning the title with Ross Brawn. He had a memorable win in his second race with the team, in Australia, though the most stunning of his 15 career victories came in Canada the following year, when he drove from last to first, beating the world champion Sebastian Vettel just before the end.
He even outscored his faster team-mate Lewis Hamilton over the three years the two were together at the Woking team. But it has been a struggle since then.
Button confirmed that some decisions will be made this week. “There’s a lot of meetings in Japan. Ron [Dennis, the McLaren group chairman], Eric [Boullier, the race director] will be there. I’m sure there will be a lot of meetings at the headquarters.
“The whole team is together in this. It’s not an easy situation for anyone. The best way is to work together, to make sure personnel and money is being put into the right area. I know the Japanese are working flat out. They have no rest.”
Button will not join another team in Formula One and his future will most likely be found in the World Endurance Championship, though he could also find an outlet in the media.
Hill said: “Jenson is highly talented, with his own style of driving. He has an incredibly light touch. He shines massively when conditions require that of him. Perhaps he lacks the aggression of some drivers, the feistiness. He’s right up there in the top bracket of F1 drivers we’ve had, but not perhaps one of the real greatest of all time.”
This article was written by Paul Weaver in Tokyo, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010