Jenson Button has revealed his decision to remain in Formula One, which he confirmed last week, was based on extensive conversations with the McLaren chief executive, Ron Dennis, and members of the team, who convinced him they will take a real step forward next season after a woeful run this year.
Button’s future was the subject of speculation that heightened before the Japanese Grand Prix, where he was widely expected to announce his retirement. He has scored only six points this season, with the team managing only 17 in total, putting them ahead of only Manor in the constructors’ standings. The prospect of another year struggling with an uncompetitive car was understood to have prompted much of the debate about his future.
The team officially confirmed last Thursday he would be continuing with his current contract that lasts through to 2016. However, he insisted in Sochi that McLaren and their engine partner Honda, whose power unit has been the car’s biggest failing this year, will have more to offer next season.
“With Formula One I’ve always given everything,” Button, the 2009 world champion, said. “I’ve always given 100% in my career. I’ve never been lazy and every second of every day has been about racing, about getting the maximum out of me, the car, the team.
“To be able to do that for another year, to go through it for one more year, I needed to know there was something positive on the horizon and I definitely feel there is a lot of good things coming over this winter.”
He also confirmed he had been in two minds about his future but he had not fully made up his mind at any point. “If I wanted to retire I would have said and I would have told the team,” he said. “I wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going in terms of direction and I needed to spend a lot of time with Ron and a lot of time with the team to hear about the future and the partnership with Honda.”
Button admitted his discussions with Dennis had been a key factor and the pair had talked more in recent weeks than in their entire time together at McLaren. “Emotionally to give it my all in F1 I needed reassurance that everything was moving in the right direction,” he said. “There was so much emotion in one way or another. Ron knows that I will give everything next year to succeed. I will give it my maximum, as I always do, I feel that he will do the same until this team succeeds.”
A drastic improvement will be needed to make the step forward the team needs. They have not finished as low as ninth since 1980 and Honda’s power unit could not be further away from the all-conquering engine they gave McLaren in the late 1980s and early 90s. But Button was convinced what he described as the still “young” partnership with Honda would come to fruition.
“It’s very difficult to see improvements over the season but over the winter you can make big strides and we definitely will do that,” he said. “And that was what was exciting for me to see that there was a lot happening. That was why I decided to race another year.
“There is a real drive and it’s amazing to see, considering how bloody difficult this year has been. The atmosphere in the team is still fantastic. Probably better than ever really because they can see that a lot needs to change, there needs to be a lot of improvements but they can see it happening and they know that they have to give it their all to make it happen.”
It was reported on Thursday night in the Financial Times that CVC, the private equity group that owns 35.5% of F1, was close to a deal to sell its stake to a US-Qatari consortium. The group, headed by Stephen Ross, the 75-year-old owner of the Miami Dolphins American football team, is said to value F1 at $8.5bn (£5.54bn). However, earlier on Thursday Bernie Ecclestone had been categorical in saying the sale was not imminent.
“I said there are three people that are interested in buying,” Ecclestone said. “They have been talking a little bit but now they are a lot more interested. If the shareholders want to sell, they will sell.
“I am not selling. That is what the problem is. Mr [Donald] McKenzie, who is the controlling shareholder, also doesn’t want to sell. If someone wants to buy and someone doesn’t want to sell it is difficult. Anyone that does follow F1 will know we have been here a million times.”
This article was written by Giles Richards in Sochi, for theguardian.com on Thursday 8th October 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010