Lewis Hamilton said he would welcome back his former team-mate Jenson Button, as the 37 year-old Englishman increasingly looks likely to replace McLaren driver Fernando Alonso for the Monaco Grand Prix. The jewel in the F1 crown clashes with the Spaniard’s newly announced drive with Andretti Autosport in the Indianapolis 500 race at the end of May.
Button retired from F1 at the end of 2016, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November being his 305th and, apparently, final outing. But his ongoing contract to act as an ambassador for the Woking team is believed to include a clause that he must deputise if one of their drivers is unable or unavailable to compete in a grand prix this year.
Button was not available for comment, but ticks all the boxes for the team, and could test the 2017 McLaren MCL32, with its wider tyres and greater aerodynamic download and cornering power, in a special session in Bahrain next week. He is also highly experienced in the way in which McLaren operates, and at a race in which team boss Zak Brown will surely be inviting potential long-term sponsors, he would be an attractive alternative to Alonso in terms of character, status and charisma.
Other former F1 racers, such as Paul di Resta, Felipe Nasr and Esteban Gutierrez also have the necessary superlicences and are available, but have those traits to lesser extents, and the Scot is contracted as Williams’ reserve driver.
"I hope Jenson comes back, it would be great for the sport to have Jenson back," said Hamilton, who partnered Button at McLaren from 2010-12.
"I still think he is one of the best drivers, his calibre is very high, and he is experienced."
Hamilton said that he was excited to see Alonso racing in the American classic. "Firstly it is great that a driver is able to do it, we should be allowed to do more than one series. There was a time when drivers could do multiple series, so it’s pretty cool.
"I wouldn't want to miss out any races in F1, you need to do all the races. But I would like to do MotoGP, I'd love to drive a MotoGP bike - or do a NASCAR race, like the Daytona 500.
“It’ll be interesting to see how Fernando gets on. It’s a completely different character, it is a lot, lot different. The set-up, the banking, how much you lift, how much you use the tyres - it's definitely a lot to learn in a short space of time. But Fernando is one of the best drivers in the world.
"He will be the best driver in the paddock there but he does not have the most experience, so it will be interesting to see how far he can challenge those guys and how he copes without that experience."
Alonso himself admitted that he would miss competing in Monte Carlo.
“It is a magic race, and the place where we believe that we will have our best package so far this year,” he explained. “So I will miss racing there massively. But racing in Indianapolis, trying to achieve the Triple Crown of winning in Monaco, Indianapolis and Le Mans, is a dream come true.”
Hamilton, the winner of last weekend’s Chinese GP and joint leader of the world championship points table with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, said that he expects another big challenge this weekend. “The higher temperature seemed to suit Ferrari in Australia, where they were very quick in race trim, so I am definitely expecting another hard race here.”