McLaren chief operation officer Jonathan Neale says he hopes McLaren has done enough to convince Jenson Button to stick with the team for another season.
Button has been the centre of enormous speculation since the Singapore Grand Prix, where the British press revealed a suspicion that the veteran world champion would be announcing his F1 retirement at his second home race in Japan.
Though he was featured as the guest of honour at the pre-race drivers press conference on Thursday, where he was expected to make the announcement, the Briton denied he had anything more to say about his future other than talks were continuing.
Speaking in the team personnel’s parallel press conference on Friday, Neale described Button as an asset to the struggling team and expressed hope a deal for 2016 could be struck.
“Jenson is a fantastic guy, a world champion and a big part of the family at Honda and McLaren, he said. “He’s been with us for six seasons and we’re contracted with him.
“I get the sense from the media there was a big anti-climax yesterday.”
Button fought long and hard to be retained by McLaren for this season after it considered pairing star signing Fernando Alonso with Kevin Magnussen, then at the end of his rookie season. Eventually, at the end of 2014, McLaren management granted Button an extension.
The 2015 season, McLaren’s first in its reunion with Honda engines, has turned out far worse than it could have imagined, with the Japanese company’s power units failing to live up to expectations.
Neale conceded, as has been speculated to be the case since the midseason break, that if Button had lost his passion for Formula One after an incredibly trying half-season, there would be little the team could do to stop him from walking.
“We want him to stay, we like him very much — but if your driver doesn’t really want to be in the seat we have to respect that.
“I really hope that we have done enough between us to continue those discussions with him… that’s what we’d like.”