After months of deliberation, McLaren has announced that Jenson Button will partner Fernando Alonso on their reunion with Japanese car maker Honda. It was a one-on-one fight between the experience and proven talent of Jenson Button versus the youth and promise of Kevin Magnussen. McLaren eventually went for the former. Whether McLaren made the right decision or not, that’s another debate which we’ll delve later in this article. The bottom line is Button will now be driving alongside what most people perceive as the fastest driver on the grid. And this is the perfect opportunity for the 34 year old to be rated alongside the likes of Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel, and not one level below the trio.
Button over Magnussen - the right decision by the McLaren board?
In economics, there’s a popular term known as the opportunity cost. In simple language, McLaren loses the youth of Kevin Magnussen, by going for the world champion in Jenson Button. As revealed earlier, Button has a multi-year contract(plural, not singular as Dennis says) suggesting that the Board of Directors are convinced that Button will do a better job over at least the next two years.
Had they retained Magnussen, he would have had three years of grand prix experience under his belt. By this time he would have got on top of the rookie mistakes that plagued his season. Also in these two years, he would have got more than a decent chance to show his potential, the glimpses of which were evident in the first half of the season. A Magnussen supporter may well point out his Formula Renault 3.5 title - a series now widely acclaimed as a better driving school than GP2. Similarly, his second place drive on his debut in Australia when the car was at his best shows that he can deliver in the future.
Button though was in the league of his own in the second half of the season in a bid to retain his seat. It won’t be wrong to say he made Magnussen play second fiddle to be him in the latter part of the year.
Now that he has been retained, he can prove that at 34 years of age, he still has the aggression to take McLaren forward and accomplish the goal set by Ron the boss - F1 domination. Mind you, without considering the break clauses, Button’s contract should at least stretch for two years, by the time he would be 36 years old.
It is also widely believed that many of McLaren directors were in favour of Magnussen. Surely, Button will have to prove his worth to those very people who run the company. They along with many others who follow the sport were critical of him. Whether Button can win another title given a competitive car? Is he a better option over Magnussen in a long term? A lot of questions need to be answered.
The plight of Raikkonen
The only hindrance in Button’s way is Fernando Alonso - the man widely regarded as the greatest driver on the grid. Ferrari went for two world champions this year in what was probably the strongest driver pairing. But as we all know, things didn’t go according to plan. Raikkonen found it hard to get to grips with the new regulations and how the Ferrari was generally setup. He struggled with lack of front grip - something he got in plenty during his Lotus tenure.
On that occasion, Raikkonen entered Alonso’s territory and a completely ‘new’ environment. In this situation, Alonso is joining a team Button has been a part of for five straight years. He has gone through the highs and the lows. With Hamilton leaving for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season, he became the British team’s star driver. And there’s little point in talking about Alonso’s tumultuous first stint with McLaren.
Depending on how Button performs against Alonso, one will get a fairer assessment of his talent. It is somewhat unfair to compare a driver with 15 years of grand prix experience under his belt to one that has just made into Formula 1.
However, the Brit compared well against Hamilton during his first three years with McLaren. While he scored more points in total over the course of their three year partnership, it was only in 2011 that he was ahead in the final standings. That season clearly didn’t go Hamilton’s way with a string of crashes with Felipe Massa and his own personal troubles. Again, that doesn’t mean Button beat Hamilton that season only because of latter’s troublesome season. He simply did a better job than his countrymen.
Ask any F1 pundit, he would suggest that Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton are the three best drivers on the grid. Button and Raikkonen, despite having that elusive title to their names, are rated one level below the trio. If Button rubs shoulder with Alonso on track or even beats him, his rating will naturally increase.
Further, he can join a strong team in any other racing category on a high note. As far his F1 career is concerned, that is in twilight years. But it’s likely that he will continue racing in other categories, with World Endurance Championship very much in his eye sight.
In all, Button has a big challenge in his hands. While the British media and Button’s fans were more than pleased with the announcement, he still has a lot to prove. Alternatively speaking, he still has a lot to give to the sport. How he fares against Fernando Alonso will give us a clearer perspective of how good or bad a world champion he is. That obviously comes after proving that McLaren made the right decision by choosing him over Magnussen. Only time will tell.