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Japanese Grand Prix 2011: Jenson Button signs new multi-year contract with McLaren

Jenson Button has ended months of speculation by signing a new ‘multi-year’ deal with McLaren which should keep him with the Woking-based team until the end of 2013 at least.

imageAlthough the length of the contract was not disclosed in on Wenesday’s announcement, drivers’ deals are typically for two seasons with the option of a third depending on certain criteria being met on each side.

There had been talk of McLaren signing Button for the rest of his career with the 31 year-old taking on an ambassadorial role for one of British engineering’s biggest success stories once he has hung up his driving boots.

McLaren is in the process of ramping up its automotive division and is entering its latest model, the MP4-12C , into various sports car series. Button, the 2009 Formula One world champion, is a sponsor’s dream and has integrated seamlessly into the Woking set-up.

However, Button is not believed to have committed his entire future to McLaren. Not yet anyway. There is little doubt that both parties are delighted with how the relationship is panning out.

Button has been a revelation since surprise signing for McLaren immediately after his title win with Brawn GP. Despite warnings – notably from three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart who said he was entering “a Lions’ Den” alongside Ron Dennis protege Lewis Hamilton, Button has won four grands prix and is currently on course to become the first of Hamilton’s team mates to beat him over the course of a F1 season.

Heading to Japan this weekend, Button leads the 2008 world champion by 17 points, and is technically the only man who can still prevent Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel from claiming his second successive drivers’ title, although he would need to win all five remaining races and hope that Vettel does not score in any of them.

“I’ve never felt more at home at a team than I do at McLaren Mercedes,” Button said. ”I’ve won four of the greatest races of my life here, I’m currently lying second in the drivers’ world championship, and I feel that I’m driving better than ever.

“You can only achieve that with the right level of support and I truly believe that the passion and determination to win are stronger here at McLaren Mercedes than anywhere else.

“As a grand prix driver, those are incredibly powerful feelings to share and be part of, and they’ve only reinforced my desire to commit my long-term future to this team.

“I’ve made no secret of my ambition to continue winning races and world championships, and I fully believe this is the place where I can achieve those aims.”

McLaren’s failure to trigger the option for 2012, as they sought to commit Button to a new long-term deal, had led to speculation regarding his future.

Both Red Bull and Ferrari are known admirers of Button and the 31 year-old himself said his preference was for the team to trigger the one-year option rather than rush into a long-term deal.

The fact that he has now signed that contract suggests that his manager Richard Goddard has managed to iron out issues surrounding Button’s sponsorship and PR commitments. Earlier this year both Button and Hamilton complained they were being worked too hard.

However agreeing that balance may have come at a price with Button unlikely to have improved on his estimated £6million per year salary, especially given the current economic climate.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh commented: “Jenson is a great driver and a great guy. In fact, I can safely say that he’s one of the most capable and respected drivers we’ve ever had, and I’m therefore absolutely delighted that he’ll continue to work with us into the future.

“He’s a considerable credit to this organisation, and I’m proud to be his Team Principal.”

Button added that he was looking forward to Sunday’s race and considered Japan his “second home” given his girlfriend Jessica Michibata is Japanese. He added that he felt it would be particularly special this year given the natural disasters suffered by the country this year.

“I am very happy that the race is going ahead; there is always the worry that it wouldn’t,” Button said. “The Japanese people need this event on the calendar after what they have been through.

“They have had such a difficult time, not just with the earth quake and the tsunami, but also there have been other horrific things lately with a typhoon and another earthquake. “So it is great the grand prix is going ahead and hopefully we can make a lot of people happy and put a smile on a lot of people’s faces.”

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