After weeks of delay and procrastination, McLaren has announced that Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will drive for the team in 2015.
Button’s 2014 teammate, Kevin Magnussen, will be kept on as test and reserve driver.
2015 marks a major change for McLaren as it switches to Honda engines. Honda re-enters F1 after pulling its factory team in at the end of 2008. McLaren and Honda have history, of course, claiming four Constructors’ Championships together between 1988 and 1991. McLaren had used Mercedes engines since ’95.
Alonso joins McLaren from Ferrari, where he’d been since 2010. He joined the Italian giants on the promise they would deliver him a third world title, but in the last couple of years they’ve been struggling just to be on the pace. 2014 was Ferrari’s first winless season in 21 years.
The Spaniard has driven for McLaren before, partnering Lewis Hamilton in his first F1 season in 2007. That turned out to be a rather stormy year, the exact reasons for which have never become entirely clear. But clearly the problems of the past have been forgotten.
Alonso said: “I am joining this project with enormous enthusiasm and determination, knowing that it may require some time to achieve the results we are aiming for, which is no problem for me.
“McLaren-Honda’s repeated and open desire, perseverance and determination in making it possible for me to join their exciting renewed partnership, have been some of the main factors that made me take this decision, not forgetting the most important factor of all: we share a common objective and expectations, and there is a very solid future ahead,” he added.
Button stays with McLaren for a sixth season, his 16th in F1. He is well known to Honda, having raced for the factory squad from ’06 to ’08, and BAR Honda before that.
He said: “Being a part of new-look McLaren-Honda is a wonderful opportunity for all of us, and I am very pleased to have been invited to do my bit. In fact, I am absolutely raring to go.”
McLaren CEO, Ron Dennis, said: “McLaren’s policy has always been to assemble the strongest line-up possible, and in Fernando and Jenson I firmly believe that is exactly what we have.”
With a combined age of 67, McLaren has the oldest driver line-up on the grid, though as such they carry a huge amount of experience – 500 races and three championships between them.
Many regard Alonso as the fastest driver in F1, and Button is one of the most consistent performers. He only qualified ahead of Magnussen ten times in 19 races last season, but scored twice as many points.
Alonso is understood to have signed a multi-year deal, while Button has extended his contract for 2015.
Next season is very much a development year for the new Honda power unit – early testing has been beset with teething trouble. As such, it may be difficult to fully gauge the drivers’ relative pace.
Still, should the package prove fast straight out of the box, it’ll be fascinating to see how the pair’s friendly off-track relationship holds up. You’d hope they’re a bit too old for the some of the histrionics we saw to Mercedes this year.
The biggest question of all, though: will Alonso ever be able to pronounce the ‘J’ in ‘Jenson’?
This is how Button and Alonso compare:
From: Oviedo, Spain
First F1 season: 2001 (Minardi)
Pole positions: 22
Fastest laps: 21
Career points: 1,767
Championships: 2 (2005, 2006)
From: Frome, England
First F1 season: 2000 (Williams)
Pole positions: 8
Fastest laps: 8
Career points: 1,198
Championships: 1 (2009)