After a fairly dull and dismal Italian Grand Prix on track, the only major talking point from the weekend was McLaren’s 2017 driver lineup. Does it mean things are all over for JB?It’s a classic McLaren piece of stage management. Stoffel Vandoorne joins Fernando Alonso as the two race drivers for 2017, whilst Buttons retains an “ambassadorial” role within the McLaren universe. It means the team have an option should a) Vandoorne somehow prove to be useless, or b) Fernando Alonso decide he can’t be bothered with the same crap anymore. It also means the firm retains the ability to milk Jenson’s marketing appeal. No doubt there’ll be numerous videos of him drifting McLaren road cars and other race cars over the next twelve months.
McLaren are no stranger to having drivers take a sabbatical. Mika Häkkinen famously took one for the 2002 season which, curiously, was also announced just before the 2001 Italian Grand Prix. After being World Drivers’ Champion in 1998 and 1999, along with finishing as runner-up in 2000, Häkkinen has suffered a challenging 2001. With the desire to win having faded, and fear from big crashes lingering, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Häkkinen officially announced his retirement from Formula 1 in 2002, at the relatively young age of only 33. (more…)