Which team could provide Jenson Button with a future in sportscars?

Jenson Button portrait 2014

With his McLaren seat in jeopardy Jenson Button is rumoured to be considering a switch to sportscar racing - but where could the 2009 world champion land?

As the weeks tick by Jenson Button's F1 future looks increasingly bleak. Despite a string of excellent drives, the Brit looks set to be dropped to make way for Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2015. That would effectively end Jenson's Formula 1 career, as he has made it clear he will not slide down the grid for the sake of calling himself an F1 driver.

But it doesn't need to be the end of his racing career. Last week, Button's manager set tongues wagging by suggesting that his charge could continue competing outside Formula 1 in 2015.

"Jenson is still focused on F1 but would only want to be in one of the top teams. So we're always open to talking to anyone," said Richard Goddard.

"Jenson is an incredibly competitive racing driver who wants to race. He's too good to sit at the back of the F1 grid. So he either gets a competitive car in F1 or he goes to get one elsewhere."

And that "elsewhere" has quickly been taken to mean the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and its centrepiece event, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Button has long been viewed as perfect for endurance racing: he is a highly intelligent driver, adept at car preservation and development, and a dab hand in changeable conditions. He was practically made for the unique challenges of Le Mans.

However he poured cold water on the idea when asked by Autosport last year, saying: "Le Mans never really ticked the boxes for me. You are racing with cars that are so much slower, in different categories, and dodging cars throughout the whole race is not something that I have ever got that excited about."

That came as a big disappointment to endurance racing fans. But perhaps Jenson was just playing a canny game. After all, a veteran driver would not be wise to start talking about his post-F1 options, at least not in public. By saying he had no desire to race at the La Sarthe circuit, perhaps Button was in fact trying to extend his F1 career.

So let's assume he is interested in adding a Le Mans win to his 2009 Monaco Grand Prix triumph - where could we see Jenson racing next year?

It seems fair to assume that Button would have eyes only for the prototype category. It is difficult to imagine a past F1 champion wanting to compete for class hours in the GT ranks; his goal will surely be outright victory in the top-tier LMP1. He is unlikely to race for a privateer team, which narrows his options down to the four manufacturer squads: Audi, Toyota, Porsche and 2015 newcomers Nissan.

Audi seems an unlikely destination. With their main drivers performing well the German marque does not have an obvious opening for 2015, unless nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen elects to hang up his helmet.

What's more, Audi have not tended to hire ex-Formula 1 drivers. Only one of their current six full-time LMP1 drivers competed in F1; that was Lucas di Grassi, who contested a single season for tail-enders Virgin Racing in 2010. Put simply, Audi like to develop their own talent, not pluck superstars from F1.

The same cannot be said for other LMP1 squads, however. Button is reported to have been in discussion with Porsche, who returned to the top tier this season with F1 veteran Mark Webber leading the line. The Australian has been impressive on his return to sportscars and is said to be loving life in the WEC.

Having only made their return this term, it would seem harsh on any of the Porsche LMP1 drivers to move them aside for Button. The German marque are loyal to their charges, making simply booting someone out to clear a space for Jenson highly unlikely. However, it is not inconceivable that the team would move Marc Lieb back to its GT operation, with whom the German has previously enjoyed huge success, to create an opening.

So Porsche is a possibility - and the BBC has reported that he has held talks with the German marque. They are made even more appealing by their vast heritage in the sport. If you're going to leave McLaren, rocking up at Porsche is a good exit strategy.

But a move to Toyota makes just as much sense. Button has an excellent profile in Japan, and his mates Alex Wurz and Ant Davidson currently race for the team. In fact Davidson leads the world championship alongside co-driver Sebastien Buemi in what is probably the outright fastest LMP1 car this season. If Jenson joined he'd know he had every chance to fighting for both Le Mans and world championship honours next season.

The team are heavily rumoured to be making at least one driver change for 2015, with Mike Conway likely to be promoted to a race seat after serving as test driver this term. Who the Brit would replace is unclear, though Stephane Sarrazin and Nicolas Lapierre have both been linked with moves to Nissan. It seems likely that at least one of the two French drivers will depart, creating a very desirable vacancy at the top of the sportscar racing ladder.

However if Button is willing and available, might Toyota overlook Conway? It would certainly be tough on Mike, but a past F1 World Champion doesn't offer his services every day. It is impossible to second guess what the Japanese outfit's management would decide, but it would certainly be a difficult decision.

The final LMP1 option is Nissan. The Japanese marque will join the party next term with their new GT-R LM NISMO. No drivers have yet been confirmed, but there is little doubt that Nissan would jump at the chance to field a former F1 champ, particularly alongside one of their GT Academy graduates - the marketing writes itself.

From a performance standpoint Nissan would represent the biggest risk for Button. Unlike their LMP1 rivals, the team will be effectively starting from scratch next season. This is not to say they will be drastically off the pace, but any new programme will take time to hit its stride. Perhaps the idea of building a team from the ground up will appeal to Jenson, but there is a great deal to be said for joining Toyota (in their fourth season) or Porsche (in their second).

Of course, it is all conjecture at this stage. There is no doubt that Button's preference is to remain a Formula 1 driver with McLaren next term. His form of late has been excellent and that suggests there is still plenty of racing life in the 34-year-old. But if he does leave F1, a seat with a manufacturer LMP1 squad in the booming WEC would be an excellent alternative for Jenson - and a huge shot in the arm for endurance racing.