With the Italian Grand Prix out of the way,and Lewis Hamilton’s mis-managed race start procedure we can now get down to the strange story of Jenson Button’s sabbatical. Button will be taking a one year career break in 2017, after 16 years in the sport and a drivers championship Button will be taking things easy but not slowing down too much.
However the terms of his sabbatical revolve around a classic Ron Dennis pincer movement. Dennis is an old school wheeler dealer at heart and knew that Button was armed with McLaren’s development programme.
So how do you as a team boss prevent Button from joining another team in order to prevent those development secrets from being utilised against you?
Button was offered lucrative deals to drive for other teams however apparently Button himself wanted to take a break from the sport.
McLaren F1 boss Ron Dennis has been keen to promote a younger driver into the team and the ‘removal’ of Button was always on the cards.
The terms of the sabbatical are for Jenson to take up a McLaren ambassadorial role and also participate in the development of the 2017/18 car as a reserve driver.
Ron Dennis hinted that Button could return to racing mid-way through the 2017 Grand Prix season should his replacement Stefan Vandoorne fail… for whatever reason.
Button would return full time to the Grand Prix circus in 2018, by then he will be 38 and reaching a point at which most F1 drivers retire from the sport.
There are a number of drivers who took a year out of the sport, notably Alain Prost who raced for Ferrari between 1990-1991.
Prost was sacked from Ferrari, took a sabbatical and waited until the then dominant Williams Renault had a vacant seat in 1993. Prost went on to win his fourth drivers world title that season.
The man Prost replaced was Nigel Mansell, the two were bitter team mates at Ferrari and Mansell left Williams refusing ever to race along side Prost again.
Mansell went on to race Indy Cars and later returned to Williams in 1994 aged 40 for few races following the death of Ayrton Senna who succeeded Prost.
Mansell won his final race victory in Adelaide and then signed to drive for McLaren in 1995. The McLaren was a dog to drive that year, Mansell retired from F1 for good just two races into the season.
So that brings us back to Jenson Button, he still has the speed but will he have the motivation to compete in 2018.
Button has had a long 16 year F1 career that alone is testament to his dogged determination and also how valued he is as a complete Grand Prix driver.
But the sabbatical deal seems to favour Ron Dennis and not Button and it seems that a race return with McLaren in 2018 is unlikely. This could end in tears and in the high court.
Button should follow Felipe Massa and call time on his career, for Button it’s mission accomplished.
In sport, any sport, the sportsman’s career is always going to end one day, Button should end his with dignity.