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Jenson Button: “I’ve never seen such motivation amongst the guys…”

Jenson Button says the team is fully motivated

Jenson Button says the team is fully motivated

An upbeat Jenson Button says that the new partnership with Honda has been a massive motivational boost to the whole McLaren team.

However Button, who knows the Japanese company well from his BAR/Honda days, conceded that it won’t be easy.

“The off-season has really brought about a sense of renewal coming into 2015,” he said. “Continuing my relationship with McLaren, getting married, and now embarking on such an exciting chapter: McLaren’s new partnership with Honda. I’ve trained hard over the winter, and I’m absolutely itching to get going in the new McLaren-Honda MP4-30.

“It’s been interesting to spend time in the factory during the past few weeks: you can really sense a feeling of reignited optimism and positivity around the building. I’ve never seen such motivation amongst the guys – we’re all massively keen to get going in Jerez and to work hard on developing our new car.

“But we’re under no illusion that it will be easy – there’s a huge challenge ahead of us to try to pull back the gap to our rivals, but we’re certainly up for it. We ended last season with great momentum and clear progress, and I’m determined to carry that forward into 2015.

“I’m also looking forward to working with my new team-mate, Fernando, and I’m confident that our joint experience on track will pay dividends in our development race to get our team back to the front of the grid. I’m hugely motivated to make more history in this new McLaren-Honda era.”

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Alonso and Button finally confirmed at McLaren

McLaren has finally confirmed that Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be the team’s race drivers in 2015.

The news comes after weeks of speculation about whether Button or Kevin Magnussen would retain their race seats alongside the Spaniard.

Alonso and Button were team mates at Renault in 2002 when the former was reserve driver. He was promoted to a race seat for 2003, and Jenson moved to BAR.

Magnussen continues on the role of test and reserve driver and clearly still has the opportunity to bounce back to a race seat – although he faces strong competition from Stoffel Vandoorne.

Among those to have raced in F1, dropped into a test role and returned to have a successful career are Alonso, Mika Hakkinen and Felipe Massa.

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McLaren will hire “the best drivers available,” says Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis says he’s satisfied with the performance of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen in 2014, but confirms that McLaren is keeping its options open on future driver choice as it enters the Honda era.

The names of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all been connected with the team, although in theory none are free until 2016 or even later.

Dennis was reminded that a few weeks ago he said that Jenson had to “try harder,” a remark that created something of a stir at the time.

“Anyone who has actually seen the TV interview in question will know that there was an element of humour in what I said,” he told the official F1 website. “Having said that, did I also intend to give Jenson a bit of a wake-up call? Yes, I did. But I did it softly, not maliciously. Indeed, perhaps the efficacy of my strategy was confirmed by the fact that Jenson immediately reacted by achieving his best race result of the year.

“Anyway, to tackle the specificity of your question, yes, I’m satisfied with both Jenson and Kevin. They’re both capable of winning Grands Prix in a competitive car – Jenson has proved that 15 times in his long Formula One career, and Kevin has already demonstrated abundant pace in his so-far-short Formula One career – but clearly we’re not giving them a competitive car at the moment.

“Nonetheless, despite that, I want them to give their best – and, at the same time, be responsible enough to appreciate that McLaren will always make efforts to hire the best drivers available. If such opportunities arise, we’ll appraise them; we always have and we always will. All great Formula One teams are the same in that regard. But we’re not in a position to do that at the moment.”

Asked about the possibility of attracting a marquee name such as Vettel or Alonso he added: “As I say, we’ll always look to employ the best drivers available – but they have to be available, don’t they? Having said that, for the avoidance of doubt, Jenson and Kevin represent an excellent blend of capable experience and youthful promise, and we’re very happy with both of them. The fact that we’re keeping an eye on what a few other drivers are up to in no way contradicts that, because, as I say, if opportunities arise, we’ll appraise them – we always have and we always will.”

Asked if any driver could be available in the right circumstances he said: “Well, that depends on whether you respect drivers’ contracts or not, and I do.”

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McLaren in no hurry to confirm drivers, says Boullier

Eric Boullier says that McLaren is in no hurry to confirm its future line-up because the team is planning for the long term, and thus clearly wants to get it right.

Despite Jenson Button’s close relationship with Honda neither of the current drivers is guaranteed a race seat for next year, and the Japanese manufacturer wants the strongest line-up it can get – and is willing to pay to have a superstar in the car.

While Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel all have ongoing contracts in 2015, their names continue to be linked with McLaren, although clearly they would need to be convinced that the Honda package is potentially stronger than what their current teams could provide after winter power unit updates. Any sensible team boss will also be looking closely at the likes of Valterri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.

In the past McLaren has of course signed and announced drivers a year in advance, as with Juan Pablo Montoya and Alonso himself, so it would not be unprecedented for a star name to be confirmed for 2016 while staying put for next season. Meanwhile Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen have to wait.

“It’s true that we are working on the strategy for the driver line-up for the next years,” said Boullier. “For me it’s important to say years because we’re looking at three years and maybe five years, and it’s true that with Ron being back since January and me new into the team we have obviously asked for a little bit more time than necessary, but we can afford this time, even if it’s uncomfortable for the drivers, which I understand. But we have to put our priorities.”

Regarding the form of Button and Magnussen this year he said: “To be honest they have performed better than we could have expected. First of all we didn’t give them a good enough car, and obviously as you know the worse a car is, the more difficult it is to drive it. I think we’re trying now to bring some performance as fast as we can.

“In terms of driving both drivers did a very good job. Kevin had a podium in the first race, obviously he went through a few experiences, which is part of the learning process. In the case of Jenson he’s obviously a professional and he delivered everything he could out of the car.”

Meanwhile third drivers and GP2 star Stoffel Vandoorne, who says that he is ready for F1, is also waiting in the wings.

“I think it’s a little bit too early to take a decision,” said Boullier when asked about the Belgian’s future. “If you have to go to F1, first he needs to feel ready, and I’m happy he thinks he’s ready. Second we need to have the opportunity to step into F1, and not at any condition I guess. We are now accessing all the scenarios. I think GP2 is one of them, because he obviously he still has to learn more in GP2 and get more wins and fight for the championship.

“He’s doing a good job for the first year, and you can see a very clear progress since a few races. He’s very, very dedicated and I’m happy to see that he’s getting there. But it’s too early to have any plans. So far all plans are open.”

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Martin Whitmarsh Q&A: Button/Alonso a “manageable” line-up

An otherwise low-key Friday in Singapore was enlivened by excitement over the apparent possibility of Fernando Alonso returning to McLaren, the team he left at the end of the turbulent 2007 season.

Martin Whitmarsh insists that there has been no contact with the Spaniard and his camp, but the team boss is happy to confirm that he would love to have him back, and that the door is open. Mischievously he suggests that the Alonso/Raikkonen partnership at Ferrari will not last long, and there is more than a hint that, even if Fernando is not available for 2014, he just might be in 2015, when Honda joins the party.

Quite what the end game is remains to be seen, but apart from creating waves at Ferrari what this little saga does is tell the world that McLaren is as yet unconvinced by Sergio Perez, hired amid much fanfare last year. It also potentially creates a vacancy for another driver who might not be as committed elsewhere as Alonso. I asked Whitmarsh for his thoughts…

Q: Can you clarify the team’s position on Fernando Alonso?

“I was asked yesterday if we would like to sign him, and the answer is I’d love to have that challenge, and I’d love to have that opportunity. We’ll see what happens. At the moment I’m sure he’s under contract with Ferrari, and we’ll see what happens in the longer term, whether he wants to come back or doesn’t. At the moment I’m sure he’s focussed on doing the best job he can for his team. I think it’s one of those stories that has built today. Perhaps there is not much else happening here! I think any team principal if you asked them, ‘Would you like Fernando Alonso in your team?,’ the answer has got to be ‘Yes,’ if they’re sane. I don’t think he’s available right now, but if he ever becomes available, then we’ll see.”

Q: In the last few races you’ve always said we’ve got two great drivers and we’re going to keep them. All of a sudden there seems to be some doubt about Sergio…

“Our two drivers have done a great job in a very difficult year, and I expect we’ll have the same driver line-up next year, that’s my expectation. But we haven’t announced it yet, it’s not all done, and we’ll see what happens.”

Q: Why have you not announced it?

“I think we’ll see, there are other things going on at the moment… We’ll see what happens.”

Q: You said today that he hasn’t beaten Jenson as often as you wanted. That’s the first time we’ve heard any criticism from you.

“It’s an observation. He’s a young driver who wants to make his mark in F1. Jenson is a great benchmark. It’s not easy to beat him, but that’s what you’ve got to set out to try and do. I think he’s disappointed, I’ve had that conversation with him. But we’ll see. Maybe this weekend he can show that he can really do a good job.”

Q: You say there are a lot of other things going on – a cynical view would be that Mexican sponsorship might be related to the delay over his deal.

“No, it’s not a commercial issue at all. I think we want to make sure we’ve got the best driver line-up and everything’s straightforward. There’s no great urgency either. The most likely outcome is no change. But we’ll see.”

Q: You’ve said that you want to respect Ferrari’s position, but in this business it’s every man for himself, and you’ve taken drivers from other teams before.

“I’ve taken drivers in the past if there was a chink, but as far as I know, there’s not one yet!”

Q: Is 2015 slightly more realistic?

“I’ll turn that around. Kimi and Alonso is a dream team at its birth. But does it stay that way for long? I don’t know. You make that judgement yourself, but I think that’s quite an interesting one.”

Q: You could equally say Jenson and Fernando, two World Champions… What makes you think that is more manageable?

“I think it is. I think Jenson is an extraordinary team player.”

Q: It’s as simple as that?

“I think so. Both those drivers, I know them, I’ve seen them in a team, and I also know Jenson, so I do believe that’s a manageable one. But again I don’t have to speculate upon it at the moment. We expect to have the same driver line-up in all probability that we’ve got this year. I’m happy with that, but I’m not rushing into it right now.”

Q: You’ve made it clear that with Honda you’ve got more financial clout in the market. How much of a push from them is there to get two superstars?

“I think they want the two best drivers they can possibly get in the world. We do have more horsepower with them in that sense…”

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Sam Michael: “I don’t want to predict anything…”

McLaren sporting director Sam Michael says that the Hungarian GP indicated that the team is making progress – and adds that the race could have been better had the team been able run its preferred strategy.

Jenson Button finished seventh after running ahead of top three qualifiers Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean before his late first stop, while Sergio Perez overcame a bad first lap to take ninth. Both men started on the prime tyre and stopped only twice.

“It was good, but I think it could have been a lot stronger if we’d been able to run our strategy and run a three-stop, Michael told this writer. “We couldn’t run a three-stop because of traffic, whereas some of the front guys could. They just happened to sneak into the right windows to do the lap times.

“If we’d tried to do it, we would have dropped into traffic, and we wouldn’t have been able to pursue it. We stuck to a two-stop, but I think as the heat went up it looked like it would have been better to do three, because we would have had to save the tyres a lot less – we had to do a lot of tyre saving.

“So, positive signs, but seventh and ninth is still not where we need to be. We’re doing the right things, but we’re not there yet, there’s still a long way to go. We want to be back at the front soon.”

Jenson Button has made it clear that he’s optimistic about Spa, and Michael agrees.

“You can run your own strategy, because you can overtake easily. As soon as you get to tracks where you can overtake you can then just run to optimum performance, and you get a better picture of where you are then.

“I think there are signs that it will be more positive in the upcoming races, but I don’t want to predict anything. We’re not where we need to be. We’ll just keep our heads down and wait until we’re back up there.”

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Sam Michael: “We were strong enough to race for points…”

Sam Michael says that McLaren showed a much improved performance at Silverstone – despite the team failing to score points for the second race in succession.

Both cars were well placed before the final safety car, but after the resumption Sergio Perez retired following a Pirelli failure, while Jenson Button slipped down to 13th on worn tyres.

“With the safety car at the end we were looking good for sixth and seventh there probably for a while,” said Michael when asked by this writer. “I think we would have struggled to keep Lewis behind us, because he was strong and in a good position. But we looked like we could have had a good go at Sutil and Ricciardo at that point, so we should have been around the sixth and seventh mark with both cars.

“It was different to Montreal. I know there were a couple of positions there that we gained because of the cars that had stopped, but even so, we were strong enough to race for points today, which was better than we were in Montreal.

“We struggled with warming tyres up on the restarts, both safety car restarts we really struggled to get it going again. But that’s our problem, really.”

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