Jenson Button is back in a racing car this weekend, contesting a one-off Super GT event at Suzuka.
It's been a quiet year for Button, whose only other on-track engagement came at the Monaco Grand Prix. But 2018 promises to be much busier. When asked about his future plans, the 2009 world champion revealed that he intends to be competing full-time next season.
So where is JB likely to land? We’ve taken a look at the options for his post-F1 career.
Button will make his Super GT bow this weekend, piloting a Honda NSX-GT in the Suzuka 1000km. It will mark his first non-F1 race event since the 1999 Korea Super Prix, which he finished as runner-up.
Super GT has attracted ex-F1 drivers in the past – Heikki Kovalainen is the reigning champion – as well as top-level sportscar racers like Andre Lotterer and Japan’s finest homegrown talent.
But landing Jenson would represent a big step up, at least in terms of reputation. You can guarantee that Super GT would reach a far bigger audience if Button came on board full-time, so both Honda and the series will be desperate to make it happen.
Jenson’s links to the manufacturer and his fondness for Japan could help to make this deal a reality. Much will depend on the Suzuka race. The result is not crucial, but his enjoyment of the experience could define his destination for 2018.
VERDICT: 8/10 – If he’s circuit racing next year, this is likely to be Jenson’s new home.
When asked about his 2018 plans, Jenson replied: “I will definitely be doing something next year for a full season. Whether it's here [in Japan] or in America or somewhere else, I don't know yet.”
America, you say – could Jenson but pondering a switch to IndyCar with one of the series’ Honda-powered teams? We hear there’s likely to be a space at the crack Ganassi squad next year…
The answer is a pretty definitive “no”. When he stood in for the Indy-bound Fernando Alonso at Monaco this season Jenson was asked about his own oval ambitions.
If JB fancied emulating Alonso's Indy adventure there's no doubt that Honda would back it. Pic: Sutton Images
“Indy hasn’t been up there for me for many different reasons,” said Button, whose childhood friend and two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in an oval crash in 2011.
That scuppers any hope of the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix winner gunning for the Triple Crown, though his reasons are understandable.
VERDICT: 2/10 – If he’s not keen on ovals there’s no prospect of Jenson looking to do a Mansell. Not sure he could rock a 'tache either.
Love it or hate it, there’s no question that Formula E is the place to be seen right now.
The electric category is attracting major manufacturers and an increasingly impressive grid of drivers. A world champion who still has plenty to offer behind the wheel would be a perfect addition.
Buemi has been the quickest man in Formula E. Does Jenson fancy going up against him? Pic: Sutton Images
The biggest stumbling block is that Honda doesn’t yet have a Formula E project. Jenson isn’t wedded to them permanently, but their presence in a series makes any deal a lot easier to facilitate.
It’s also fair to say that the series isn’t quite there in terms of tech and prestige. When new cars capable of running a full race on one battery are introduced in the 2018-19 season, perhaps a driver of Button’s reputation could be tempted. For now, it's just a bit too early.
VERDICT: 4/10 – Unless Jenson fancies getting beaten by Sebastien Buemi every weekend, this seems pretty unlikely.
It’s well known that rallycross is on Jenson’s to-do list. His father John competed in the discipline for many years with a fair degree of success so it would be more than just a job to the younger Button.
Should he take the mixed surface route, Jenson has two options: the FIA World RallyCross Championship (WRX), or the Red Bull-backed Global RallyCross Championship (GRC).
WRX is better known and would give Jenson the chance to win FIA world titles in multiple categories. He’d be going up against some top drivers, too, including rally legend Sebastian Loeb and Petter Solberg, who is a champion in both WRC and WRX. The series also races at Silverstone next season, so perhaps JB could finally get a podium at his home circuit.
Honda doesn't compete in WRX, however – as we’ve said, this isn’t necessarily a problem, though it makes a deal less likely. But they do compete in GRC.
In true American fashion, GRC is staged entirely in the United States. Jenson tested one of Honda’s cars at the start of 2017 and admitted that it was trickier than he’d expected.
But competing in rallycross would bring less pressure than circuit racing. On a track, JB would be expected to win – anything less would be a failure for an F1 champion. But rallycross is a different discipline – he’d be afforded some leeway while he learnt the ropes.
So would he fancy a 12-round global series or a shorter schedule staged entirely in America? Either way, we can definitely see JB in a rallycross car next year.
VERDICT: 9/10 – If he’s going full-time in 2018, rallycross (with a few sportscar races here and there) seems most likely.
FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP
It has long been suggested that Jenson could compete in the World Endurance Championship, though recent developments have made this less likely than it seemed a few years back.
Again, Honda aren’t involved. Worse still, the only LMP1 manufacturer team confirmed for 2018 are their arch rivals Toyota. While we can see JB lining up for another marque, it would be a big surprise to see him in a Toyota.
Just as IndyCar is about the 500, the WEC is about Le Mans. Jenson is unlikely to be happy competing for anything other than outright victory at the 24 Hours, so the current outlook is bleak.
What could change matters would be Toyota withdrawing due to a lack of competition. That would likely cause a degree of change that we can’t guess at, but perhaps it would create a situation where more teams could win – at which point Button could well be tempted to compete.
But while we could see him at La Sarthe, it’s difficult to envisage JB tackling the full schedule.
VERDICT: 5/10 – Unlikely to be full-time, though a one-off at Le Mans is possible.
VERDICT: 0/10 – Just no.