SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Britain’s 2009 world champion Jenson Button was giving nothing away on Thursday despite mounting speculation that he is gearing up to leave Formula One at the end of the season.
Appearing in a Japanese Grand Prix news conference with four other drivers, including Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the 35-year-old McLaren driver was left until last by the moderator asking pre-prepared questions.
With a palpable sense of expectation building in the room, the Briton smiled -- and disappointed an audience hungry for news.
“What today? Or after this?,” he grinned, stalling teasingly when asked what his plans were.
”I can’t give you anything else really since the last race, there’s no more information to give you,“ he said. ”You’re going to have to wait for a little while I‘m sorry to say.
“But we’re in good talks, the team and myself, so that’s it. We are here to concentrate on this weekend. It’s a big weekend for us, McLaren-Honda, in front of Honda’s home crowd at their circuit.”
With social media lighting up to impart the news that he had no news to give, reporters tried to tease more information out of a man who has seen it all before as the most experienced driver in the paddock.
“How much is a little bit?,” he was asked. And did the reference to talks indicate he could still be around next season?
The attempt was doomed to failure.
“There are so many possibilities about what could happen next year,” said Button. “So many possibilities. But I’ve got nothing else for you, I‘m sorry to say.”
Speculation about his future reached new heights after last Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix when he told British reporters he had made a decision.
He spoke about missing the ‘joy’ of competing, remarks interpreted as signaling the end of a career that started at Williams in 2000. There was speculation an announcement could be made at Suzuka.
”The joy of being in the car is only there if you’re
fighting at the front, because you feel like you’re achieving
something,” he had said.
”If you’re fighting near the back, you’re driving an F1 car,
but you can easily get joy driving something else.”
Button returned to that theme on Thursday, saying: ”I don’t think any driver has joy when they are not fighting for victories.
“I don’t like finishing 14th, I don’t like finishing 10th. That’s not what gives me joy and excites me. But there are so many other things that if they work in your favor or you see a future, there’s the possibility of joy coming back.”
Former champions McLaren, in a new partnership with Honda, have had an abject season with the engine uncompetitive and unreliable.
Both Button and Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso have collected multiple penalties due to repeated engine problems and the Briton has scored just six points in 13 races.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly