It will be an emotional farewell for Jenson Button this coming weekend after the British racer admitted to the press in Abu Dhabi that even though he has a deal in place to return to the team in a driving role in 2018, as far as he is concerned, the season finale will be his 305th and last Formula One race.
When Button, who has one world title to his name after claiming the championship with BrawnGP in 2009, announced that he would be taking a sabbatical in 2017, the team revealed that there is an option for him to return to them in 2018, if that was what he wanted to do. However, after 17 years in the sport, it appears as if Jenson has finally dotted the I's and crossed the t's on his time on the F1 racetrack once and for all.
Here he explains in depth just what the past 17 years have been to him...and how his life will really start when all is said and done on Sunday afternoon.
Jenson, officially you're on option for 2018 but as there's a chance this could be your last Formula One grand prix tell us about the adventure of the last 17 years?
Wow, we could be here for a little while! First of all I go into this thinking it's going to be my last race. I think that's the best way to be and at this moment in time I don't want to be racing Formula One past this race, and that's the whole idea. Anyway, I think of this as my last race and hopefully everyone else does as well. Yeah, it's been a long journey. Since eight years old until now I've been racing in motorsport and everything before Formula One was work to try and get to Formula One. You get to Formula One with many dreams and you aspire to be something and hopefully you leave the sport with memories. That's something I definitely do have from my 17 years of racing in Formula One. Lots of amazing memories, lots of life-changing memories – some good, some bad – and also to walk away with the world championship is a very special feeling as well. To race with two of the teams that I dreamt of racing with when I was a kid – Williams and McLaren – and when I did win the world championship it was with a privateer team, which I think is also pretty special. Obviously a very memorable year of my life and in the future it's something I'll hopefully be telling my grandchildren all about, how we came from nothing and we ended up winning the world championship. There are so many memories that I can't put them all out on the table right now, but that's a small snippet of my career. Over 300 grands prix. I will definitely step away from Formula One happy with what I've achieved and knowing that my life really does start now.
Ok, well, huge changes going on at McLaren. Are these changes that will leave the team stronger for the future?
You always hope changes that you make for that reason do work of course. I think there's still a lot more going on before next year. But of course I will still be working at McLaren-Honda, so yeah you hope that that the change will be positive. New outlook, fresh ideas and certain things that have changed the team definitely needs and hopefully we can put that to good use next year and in the future.
You have been pretty unequivocal now about your feelings about this being your last race, but it wasn't quite presented in the same way initially. Why the change between Monza and here?
Nothing's changed. I've just gone into this last race thinking that it is my last. I don't want to go into this race thinking that it's not my last and it is my last. It is true that I have a contract for 2018 but at this moment in time I don't want to be racing in 2018. But the whole idea about having a contract was that in three months' time, when I've eaten myself stupid and I'm thinking of things to do in the future and I feel like I need Formula One back in my life, but at this moment in time that isn't the case. So this is my last race, that's the way I think about it at the moment, but who knows that could change in six months, eight months, one year.
As you get ready to leave the sport there are a lot of changes coming in 2017, what are your hopes for the future of Formula One as you leave the sport?
I think coming up through… starting in 2000 and racing here in 2016 the sport has changed quite a lot – a lot for the positive. There are always going to be negatives, especially when you are trying new trends and technologies and what have you. But the main reason why I think people turn on and watch Formula One is the fighting, seeing different teams and different drivers fight for every race. For sure we've had it in the past when the have only been two drivers fighting for the championship but it's been with different teams. Basically Mercedes are doing too good a job and nobody else is doing a good enough job right now. We are all working hard to catch up but it's tough, because they are very competitive. I think that is what's going to attract people more next year, if there are more teams fighting at the front, different drivers winning more races, because at the moment if nothing goes wrong with Mercedes, if they don't have any issues, they win the race and a bad result is finishing second to your team-mate. That's something that needs to change but obviously we will see if it does. Hopefully the rule changes, which are very big, will help other teams find a new direction and close the gap, because that's exactly what we want to watch, as Felipe said, and it's the only reason I'll be watching Formula One next year.
With 17 years of experience in Formula One, what would you do differently to what you did in the past?
It's a good question but I think my job is not to look back. It's to live in the moment right now. This is my last race and I I'm looking forward to getting out on the track. There's no point trying to change the past because you can't. You've got to learn from your mistakes and move forwards. It's living in the moment and looking forward to the future.