Jenson Button has refused to dismiss speculation concerning his expected imminent retirement from Formula One and it is widely predicted that he will quit the sport within days of Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
While he refused to confirm the end of a 16-year career, which has brought him 15 wins in 278 starts and the 2009 world championship, others were already lining up to pay tribute to his highly individual skill and popularity.
The four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel said: “He’s a big character. We know that he’s quick, he deserves to be a champion. On top of that, he is a very fair guy on the track, outside the track. We all like him for many reasons, so he will be a big loss.”
It seems that Button’s sense of fair play has convinced him that any statement should be made in England, and in tandem with his McLaren team, possibly in Woking next week.
He said he knew what he would do, despite continued talks with McLaren, and added: “Even if you know in your mind what you want to do, you still want to talk with the team and discuss the future. It’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean that it changes my mind in any way, but it’s important for us to be as one when we decide what’s happening.”
Button sounded as if he had had enough after Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, when he was forced to retire yet again, and admitted he did not enjoy battling at the back of the grid.
On Thursday he added: “I don’t think any driver has joy when you are not fighting for victories. I don’t like finishing 14th or 10th. That is not what excites me.”
There was a certain valedictory air about him when he paid tribute to his supporters, adding: “Fans have been unbelievably supportive. Really supportive. I think 90% of them are saying I shouldn’t retire from the sport; 10% say go and do something else. When they read it’s a possibility it surprises some of them. The support has been overwhelming, it really has.
“And I wish I could tell them a little bit more. The important thing for them to know is that we will make the right decision for us, as a team.”
The new Top Gear presenter Chris Evans appeared to be flirting with a tie-up with Button when he added: “He hasn’t signed on the dotted line, or as far I’m aware told his current bosses. Anyway, we’ll see how that unfolds.”
All day in Japan Button cut a relaxed, easy-going figure, not one wracked by indecision or by the responsibility of having to transform a struggling car into a championship contender.
He is reluctant to return to the struggles of his formative years, particularly as most people can see no change in McLaren’s fortunes before the back end of next year, and he has found the endless travel even more of an ordeal since the death of his father, John, at the beginning of last year.
Both Button and his team-mate Fernando Alonso retired in Singapore and McLaren will attempt to come up with a solution for their gearbox problems during practice on Friday.
Meanwhile, following his retirement in Singapore, Lewis Hamilton’s lead in this year’s title race has been slashed by his team-mate Nico Rosberg. The world champion has also identified Vettel, who went on to win the race, as a rival for this year’s title despite the fact the Ferrari driver is languishing 49 points behind him.
Hamilton said: “For me, everyone is a threat and they have been since Malaysia. They won there so since then we have always kept them in view.
“When we got to Monza, Ferrari took another step so nothing has really changed for us. It is great for the sport.”
Rosberg, who is now only eight points ahead of Vettel, said: “He is a threat and we are keeping an eye on him and Ferrari in general, because they have been very strong at times this year. They are our closest competitors and they are capable of anything – we need to be careful.”
The saddest sight at Suzuka on Thursday was of the Lotus team mooching about waiting for their freight to arrive. It is understood that cash-flow problems resulted in a delay in them getting their shipping contract signed off.
It also meant that they were locked out of their own hospitality home, which had to be paid for in advance, and rival teams had to provide them with food.
Lotus are hoping a takeover bid by Renault will be finalised within the next few days before they return to court for unpaid tax bills.
This article was written by Paul Weaver in Suzuka, for theguardian.com on Thursday 24th September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010