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Former Formula 1 champion Jenson Button has done his time at the pinnacle of the sport but the Briton says returning as a Monaco Grand Prix stand-in for McLaren’s Fernando Alonso will still be a big thrill.
Spaniard Alonso will be trying to win the Indianapolis 500 in the United States on May 28, the double world champion opting to miss the Formula One season’s showcase race on the same day.
Button, the 2009 world champion and former Monaco race winner who handed over his seat at McLaren to Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne at the end of last year, was the obvious replacement.
There has been speculation in the paddock that the 37-year-old might not be enthused by the prospect, particularly with struggling McLaren yet to score a point this year, but he told Sky Sports television he was excited.
“When the chance came to race in Monaco, I was going to take it,” he said. “I don’t want to be racing in Formula One for a whole season because I’ve done my time in Formula One, I’ve loved most of my career but it was time for me to have a break.”
“But to come back for the Monaco Grand Prix, I mean that is just the dream for a racing driver; coming in for a one-off race, in Monaco, the most glamorous grand prix on the calendar, it’s that excitement is back.”
Speaking from the McLaren factory, Button said there was plenty to learn again.
The 2017 cars are wider, faster through corners as a result of aerodynamic changes and with bigger tyres than the ones Button raced last year, but he said the basic knowledge was still there.
“You jump into the simulator and after five laps there’s that ‘OK, I’ve still got it then’. I can still direct the car around the corners and I still know how to change gear and push the brake podal and modulate the throttle,” he said. “That never leaves you.”
Alonso, who failed to start last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix due to problems with the Honda power unit, was at Indianapolis this week for his IndyCar rookie orientation. He passed the test with flying colours.
Button had earlier recorded a humorous message to the Spaniard on McLaren’s Twitter feed: “I’ll keep your seat warm in Monaco and get lots of juicy points for when you return and make you jealous that you didn’t race in Monaco,” he said.