Button hints at deferred retirement plan
7 October 2011
Jenson Button has admitted that any plans he may have had to retire from F1 in the next few years may be put on the backburner if his new deal with McLaren leads to continued success at the head of the field.
Only recently, the Briton admitted that his next contract may be the last he signs in F1 - leading to speculation that he may look to end his days in the top flight with Ferrari - but Wednesday's news that he had extended his relationship with McLaren was accompanied by the hint that he could continue racing for some time to come.
"I've been asked is this my last contract and, probably, two years ago, I would have said 'definitely'," the Briton told Reuters on the eve of practice for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, "Even last year I probably would have said 'definitely'. But time flies and I think it [retirement] will end up going back and back. So, yes, it might be [my last F1 contract] or it might not be. I don't know. I'm really enjoying where I am at the moment and, hopefully, this feeling will continue. If it does, I might be racing for a lot more years."
The 31-year old's contract extension is 'multi-year' and, despite the ambiguity that that carries, ends speculation that he may be looking to move on, potentially to Maranello following a mid-season admission that Ferrari remained the only team of his youth that he had yet to represent. While team-mate Lewis Hamilton has endured a tumultuous 2011 campaign, Button remains the only driver able to deny Sebastian Vettel a second consecutive title - albeit with the German requiring a single point from five races - and insists that his level of competitiveness was a key to extending his deal to stay at Woking.
"I've never felt more at home at a team than I do at McLaren,” he said when announcing the new deal, "I've won four of the greatest races of my life here, I'm currently lying second in the drivers' world championship, and I feel that I'm driving better than ever.
"You can only achieve that with the right level of support – and I truly believe that the passion and determination to win are stronger here than anywhere else. As a grand prix driver, those are incredibly powerful feelings to share and be part of, and they've only reinforced my desire to commit my long-term future to this team.”
When Button joined McLaren, he was expected to be put firmly in the shade by Hamilton, despite carrying the world title to Woking with him, but has defied the scaremongers by proving to be the equal of his fellow countryman on track, and arguably better than him in dealing with the pressures that surround life as an F1 driver off it.
Clearly more content with his lot having achieved the dream of becoming world champion, which he achieved with Brawn GP in 2009, Button insisted that he expected to get more from his association with McLaren in future as he had more of a say in the design of forthcoming cars.
"I think there's a lot more that I can give in terms of developing the car because, last year, I arrived and the car was [already] built," he explained, "This year, I think we've made a step forward and I feel I'm a lot more at home in this car. Hopefully, I can still help with the development for the future years [because] it's exciting to have a multi-year contract - whatever that means - with a team that has the resources, the manpower, the expertise to fight for a championship over the years."
Indeed, Button's new deal will raise speculation that it will be Hamilton who quits McLaren first, the younger Briton having hinted that he could become impatient if the team does not produce a car to take on Red Bull Racing, and challenge for the title, at the front of the field. Button, meanwhile, remains optimistic that the Woking squad will be able to recapture former glories - its last title came courtesy of Hamilton in 2008 - and repay his faith in re-signing instead of opting to throw his lot in with a childhood dream of racing in red.
Ferrari currently trails both RBR and McLaren in the constructors' championship and Fernando Alonso, to whom Button would ostensibly have been a clear 'number two', has won just one race in 2011. While Button has only twice stood on top of the podium, Hamilton's own brace of victories have shown McLaren to be a better bet than its Italian rival this season, and the older Briton admits that nostalgia has a lot to do with the apparent lure of Ferrari.
"It's not a regret now, is it?" he said in response to questions suggesting that he may now have missed the boat to Maranello, "I don't regret anything at the moment. I think every driver is excited about Ferrari because they remember the past and what Ferrari have achieved in the past, but they are not the only team. I think a lot of drivers would like to be in a Ferrari if it was the right circumstances and the right situation, but they are not very often.
“I think this is a great opportunity over the next couple of years to really work closely with McLaren. We are so close to fighting with Red Bull, [and] I think it is good to have the continuity going forward for the next couple of years. It is going to help us take the fight to [RBR] next season."