Entering Formula 1 at the age of 20 in 2000, Jenson Button was one of the most experienced drivers on the grid in 2016, having just over 300 Grand Prix starts to his name by the end of the season. However, 2016 marked the final year of the 2009 World Champion’s Formula 1 career, with the Brit announcing his F1 retirement ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. With this being announced, Button will be replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren for the 2017 Formula 1 Season. With big shoes to fill upon his arrival, what will 2017 hold for one of motorsport’s hottest young talents on the grid who will make his official debut at the Australian Grand Prix in March?
McLaren-Honda: Out with the Old and In with the New
Jenson Button joined McLaren in 2010 following his successful 2009 campaign with Brawn GP which saw the British driver secure the World Drivers Championship. Since joining the team, the Brit is one of the longest serving McLaren drivers to date, having 135 race starts for the Woking-based outfit.
In this span of 135 races for McLaren, Button secured eight race wins and stood on the podium 25 times in total – exactly half of his total number of podium finishes over the course of 17 seasons of competition.
Of Button’s time at McLaren, a number of stand out memories include his dominant performance at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, his victory at the 2010 Australian Grand Prix in what was a strategy masterclass, and his fantastic win in a dramatic and rain-drenched Canadian Grand Prix in 2011 – a race which saw Button make contact with his team mate, be handed multiple penalties being in last place twice in the race, and still come out with the win, overtaking Sebastian Vettel in the final lap of Formula 1’s longest ever race.
Jenson Button also currently remains as McLaren’s last winner, winning the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012.
Over the course of seven seasons with McLaren, it is clear that Button has become a key component within the team’s workings – a component that will be very difficult to replace in 2017.
Stoffel Vandoorne has a lot to live up to when he joins McLaren for the 2017 F1 Season, having a big pair of boots to fill because of Button’s retirement. But is Vandoorne up for the job to take the place of one of F1’s most experienced drivers?
When Vandoorne lines up on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix in March, it will not be the Belgian driver’s first ever F1 race, with Vandoorne racing in the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, filling in for an injured Fernando Alonso as McLaren’s reserve driver.
In this race, Vandoorne showed spectators that he was ready to take his place in Formula 1, finishing in tenth place, meaning that he finished in the points in his unofficial race debut as reserve driver. Not only was this a fantastic achievement but Vandoorne also secured the first points finish for McLaren in 2016 through this performance, beating Button in both qualifying, and in the race.
Outside of F1, Vandoorne has also achieved much success in other series, becoming GP2 Champion in 2015 when driving for ART Grand Prix, finishing on the podium in 16 of the 22 races of the season, winning seven of them. This meant that Vandoorne won the championship by 108 points over Alexander Rossi.
Most recently Vandoorne has competed in the Super Formula Championship in 2016 for Docomo Team Dandelion Racing. Here, Vandoorne finished fourth in the standings, being the highest placed driver using the Honda engine. In this solitary season of competition, Vandoorne won two of the nine races in the championship, as well as finishing on the podium in the opening round of the season.
For those questioning if Vandoorne can take the place of Jenson Button at McLaren in 2017, it is clear that it would be difficult for any driver to take the place of a Formula 1 World Champion, especially a rookie. Despite this however, Vandoorne has the credentials, the speed, and the talent to do so. When Vandoorne is pitted against Fernando Alonso at the Australian Grand Prix is when we will find out if he can fill Button’s shoes. With new technical regulations in Formula 1 in 2017, this forthcoming season couldn’t be a better time for changes at McLaren, being out with the old and in with the new in the next generation of the pinnacle of Motorsport.