Alonso-Button, Button-Alonso, world champions elite and pay packet nightmares. The newly elected partnership had been discussed greatly long before its announcement. Weeks of campaigning via social media for Jenson Button’s retainment have been greeted with the news that he will be kept. A reported pay cut of £4 million a year for Button is likely to have swung McLaren into keeping what is now a £33 million-per-year driver line up.
But let it not be forgotten that Button will have been kept for his racing ability and experience first and foremost. He is known as one of the most technically perfect drivers in the sport and at points during his career has been unbeatable. 268 races, 50 podiums and 15 race wins make for impressive reading.
Along with losing their prize possession Lewis Hamilton and their first podium-less season since 1980 in 2013 McLaren have been consistently poor for a number of years now. The car hasn’t been good enough, the team hasn’t been good enough and the decision making at times has been dreadful.
The time for a change was now and with the new Honda engine McLaren have a real chance to start again and work there way back to where they belong at the top of the Formula One pyramid.
Smart but somewhat surprising is probably the best way to describe McLaren’s decision, any one who is not a fan of Jenson Button would probably argue Magnussen’s case for the other seat. Magnussen had an impressive debut season 55 points and a 2nd place grid finish in a season that Button failed to finish higher than 3rd in a race.
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Magnussen is also 12 years Buttons junior and if left to develop has shown signs that he could become a world class driver. However this is a risk that Mercedes were right to avoid.
What I believe is the real coup is keeping Magnussen on as a test driver, he has the ability to drive for just about any team on the track and the fact they have managed to convince to stay on and play third fiddle to Button and Alonso as the test driver is a masterstroke.
By the time one of Alonso and Button retire, McLaren expect themselves to have become accustomed to the Honda engine and to be back competing among the elite cars in the sport. Magnussen will not have to have suffered through the years of struggle and as such will not lose any confidence from it, while learning from two of the greatest drivers of the past decade.
That probably played a part in Mercedes strategy of leaving it till the last minute to announce their driver lineup. By leaving it that late it left Magnussen little choice but to move back and become their test drivers if he wanted to stay in the sport. Incredible clever by Mercedes, albeit disrespectful to Button and deceitful to Magnussen. But if the move brings them success no one will remember that.
Many teams would have been naive and brought in a young driver to build the car around for the years of success they predict lie ahead. Mercedes were smart and realised the next few years will be very tough as they start from scratch, experience will be vital as they try and repair their reputation in the sport.
A younger driver would have struggled to handle the stress and disappointment of the rebuild. So by taking Magnussen out of the spotlight and letting him learn from the more experienced drivers they have done him the world of good.
Button and Alonso will be able to get the most out of the cars while also aiding the team in the development of them.