Ever since Red Bull dropped the bombshell that Sebastian Vettel was departing Red Bull Racing, rumblings of Fernando Alonso’s return to McLaren have only strengthened.
However should the Spaniard confirm a move back to Woking, then team boss Ron Dennis will have little choice but to cut either Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen loose.
In one sense, it is a wonderful problem to have. In one corner, your team already possesses two star drivers: one of whom is a respected former world champion, known for methodical approach and calm nature that all too often sits within a narrow performance bridge, while the other an attacking young gun keen to make his mark on the sport.
Across the way lies Fernando Alonso – possibly one of the finest driver’s in the sport as a whole at the moment, if not the finest – and he’s knocking on your door, digging for a drive.
Should the double world champion sign up for a McLaren seat in 2015 – backed by Honda, returning as power unit supplier, then the famed team will have an extremely tricky decision to make.
Alas, running a third car may not be as much of an option as some might be led to believe…
If one were to merely look at the statistics, then the choice between Button and Magnussen would clearly favour the elder Briton. Indeed Jenson’s score of 94 points to Magnussen’s 49 certain offer Button an upper hand; however contradictions quickly emerge.
While points and statistics are useful barometers to have to hand, they rarely expose the complex layers that exist within a Formula One team. If anything, the team may be far more tuned into future potential rather than past glories or the present state and it is here where Button may lose out.
As is well known, Alonso and McLaren have history and any relationship in 2015 may be born through gritted teeth rather than open arms, but having the Spaniard on their books would ensure McLaren possessed one of the most methodical drivers on the grid.
Button, too, is well known for a good feel of a car in the right conditions, but in a difficult car that all too often sits outside of his comfort zone, the Briton’s performance slips away silently. Both would use their vast experience to the best of their abilities, yet one can see Alonso stretching that elastic somewhat further than his British counterpart.
Meanwhile, Magnussen may be short on experience, but he makes up for it in drive and aggression. On occasion this has led to penalties that have reduced Magnussen’s points tally, but the Dane is not making a habit of crashing and that is a good indicator of the driver.
At only 22-years-old, Magnussen should have many years ahead of him in Formula One, but it may require McLaren to knuckle down and to focus Magnussen’s inherent speed with proper guidance. Sidelining Magnussen will only serve to harm the young man’s career.
There lies another pointer though. Where one may look to their experience as a positive marker, it could also be pointed out that both Alonso and Button are close to the end of their careers and it is less than likely that Honda would wish to be in a situation where McLaren will face a wholesale driver change in the very near future.
While there may only be eighteen months between them, Alonso still looks by far the more energetic of the pairing; however his tireless at Ferrari in recent seasons has, on occasion, made Alonso appear strained. It does raise some questions just how long the Oviedo man can keep up this heightened level of performance.
Alas, both McLaren and Honda will be looking long term and they will want a capable young driver to lead the charge once both Button and Alonso have left the stable and Magnussen may be that man.
Sadly though, to make this work for McLaren, it may also mean the end of the road for Jenson Button in three Grand Prix time.