Ron Dennis says Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will race for McLaren in 2016
McLaren boss reveals he told Button he wanted him to stay on earlier this week and that the driver was "pleased" by the news; Adds that Alonso's comments about Japanese GP performance weren't "constructive"
By Mike Wise and William Esler
Last Updated: 27/09/15 1:39pm
McLaren boss Ron Dennis has told Sky Sports F1 that Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will race for the team in 2016.
"Yes, what more do you want?" answered Dennis in the Suzuka paddock, after Martin Brundle pressed him on whether Alonso and Button would be McLaren's race drivers next season.
The revelation comes after a period of intense speculation about Button's F1 future and while Alonso's own has appeared more certain, the Spaniard's frustration with the McLaren-Honda package reached a whole new level during the Japanese GP, in which he described their performance as "very embarrassing".
Dennis said that McLaren held an option to terminate Button's two-year contract with the team, but he'd told him earlier this week that they wanted him to stay on.
He added that Button was "pleased" by the news and that, although he could perhaps have told the 2009 world champion sooner, he needed to speak to McLaren's shareholders first.
"The contract is completely intact and going to be unchanged," Dennis said. "I've spoken to Jenson about it and he's happy.
"I never discuss contractual matters if I can avoid it. And even acknowledging the fact there was an option is more than I would normally do.
"The drivers are all contracted, that's the end of it."
The news comes despite suggestions in recent days that Button had grown disenchanted and was on the verge of walking out of McLaren - and retiring from F1 altogether.
An announcement had been anticipated on Thursday when Button appeared in the drivers' press conference at Suzuka, Instead, however, he refused to shed any fresh light on his plans.
"I probably should have [told him earlier]," Dennis admitted. "In any relationship, if you feel that the other party is not particularly comfortable and you are doubting that other party's commitment, that is not a good way forward.
"If that doubt is removed things change. 'Do you want me? Do you care? Do you believe in me?' That is the kind of sentiment I believe was in Jenson's thinking."
Dennis also said that Alonso's comments during Honda's home race, in which he also likened their power unit to a "GP2 engine", weren't particularly helpful.
"I think he vented his frustration. I don't think he needed to make the comments, it wasn't particularly constructive," he said.
"I do not condone it, but I am not going to criticise our drivers. I will sort it behind closed doors."
Q&A: Ron Dennis' interview with Sky Sports F1:
You heard Fernando Alonso's comments over the radio - what did you make of them?
"I think he vented his frustration. I don't think he needed to make the comments, it wasn't particularly constructive. We are here in Japan, Suzuka, Honda's home track, we had the president of the Honda motor company, we had the head of R&D, chief executive of Honda motors - the three most senior people who are totally committed to winning a world championship and their curve is much steeper than they anticipated, but their aspirations and commitment has not diminished. We are strong partners, we will take the pain as a learning curve, it is the only way to win a world championship. If you are not with a number one engine you will not win a world championship."
Do they need a hurry up like that? Will that be a motivator or damage beyond repair?
"I think that is an embarrassment, but I don't want to make any more of it. The drivers get relatively minimal interface with the management of Honda. They get interface with the technical people. Maybe this is to make sure the message is heard by everybody. I do not condone it, but I am not going to criticise our drivers. I will sort it behind closed doors."
What did you make of Flavio [Briatore]'s comments that Alonso could leave?
"The problem is when you are uncompetitive everyone has an opinion and the opinions come thick and fast from every direction. I wish they would just keep them to themselves. At the end of the day we have Fernando contracted for three years and Jenson contracted for two. We have three young drivers at various stages of their careers, all doing incredibly well and we know where we are going and what we are doing. So I am not going to make comment about our drivers. We did have an option to terminate Jenson's contract, but I told him earlier in the week that wasn't going to happen. And I think he was pleased, and maybe I should have told him a bit sooner. But I don't make all the decisions at McLaren and I wanted to check with the shareholders what their feelings were and once I had a consensus on that…"
So Jenson will be driving for McLaren next year? That is breaking news?
"The contract is completely intact and is going to be unchanged and I have spoken to Jenson about it and he is happy. So I don't want to, I never discuss contract matters if I can help it, and even acknowledging that it was an option is more than I would normally do. But the drivers are all contracted and that is the end of it."
It is interesting that you say that because that is not the message that has been coming across from Jenson's side.
"I could have, I probably should have..[told him earlier]. In any relationship, if you feel that the other party is not particularly comfortable and you are doubting that other party's commitment, that is not a good way forward. If that doubt is removed things change. Do you want me? Do you care? Do you believe in me? That is the kind of sentiment I believe was in Jenson's thinking."
But that then goes back to your other driver who is coming out and saying that he doesn't want to be here, he is not happy?
"No, everyone is hanging on everybody's word. It is simple; what is simpler than they all have contracts and everyone has to live by their contracts, so why don't we just leave it at that."
You're ducking and diving Ron. Saying something without quite saying it. Are Button and Alonso in your two cars next year?
"Yes. What more do you want?"
You are going to lose a lot of TV and prize money, that car looks empty without sponsors. Have McLaren got the financial clout they need to get back to the sharp end of the grid?
"You don't need to be an Einstein - if you look at McLaren you've got pretty significant debt with the automotive company, the technology company. We will announce a new sponsor next week, a good sponsor. And there are others in the pipeline. Of course you always want more, this is a sport that will consume everything. And we have strong technical engineering and technical support in many areas with Honda. So we are in a pretty unique position. Most people are paying significant sums for engines, it is the way you construct your budget that is important and we have more than enough to be competitive."
Is that business plan based around you having two world champions in the car? Does that stop you bringing in your two young drivers [Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne] as the champions keep the sponsors?
"Why would you sign a contract if you had no intention of keeping them? Nothing is unplanned."
If we are still talking about this come March next season and Honda haven't take a big step with their 25 or 32 tokens, depending on what you all agree, what are you going to do then?
"I think first of all when you talk about the tokens you only use tokens when you have an improvement. We can spend as much time and money as we want to use actually getting the performance; it is only when you've got the performance do you cash in your tokens. There is a strong movement to increase the number of tokens, vary the engine regulations to free them up and I just wish they would free up other things like testing and wind tunnels. The sport is covered in regulations that were designed to cut costs and they don't cut costs at all - they increase costs. If you are in a hole you need to be able to test, you need to be able to use your wind tunnel. What is the point in having these assets if you can't use them? It is deeply, deeply frustrating."
Don't miss the F1 Midweek Report on Wednesday night at 8.30pm when Ted Kravitz and David Brabham join Natalie Pinkham to discuss the Japanese GP