BRITAIN’S JENSON Button looks set to replace Fernando Alonso at McLaren for the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
Alonso will miss Monaco to race in the Indianapolis 500 with full support from McLaren and engine partner Honda.
Although McLaren have yet to make an announcement, sources revealed, there is no other serious option than Button, 37, who is contracted to McLaren as a reserve driver and will race barring unexpected circumstances.
The 2009 world champion retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2016 and has spent the winter in California training for Ironman triathlons, his long-time passion.
He signed a contract with McLaren last autumn that committed him to replacing any race driver who was not able to take part in a grand prix this year.
Fernando Alonso will miss the Monaco Grand Prix in May so he can race in the Indianapolis 500.
The double world champion has the full approval and support of McLaren and engine partner Honda, who are having a difficult season in Formula 1.
The Spaniard will race for the Honda-powered Andretti team on May 28, and the car will be branded a McLaren.
Alonso, 35, said he had long held an ambition to win the so-called ‘triple crown’ of Monaco, the Indy 500 and Le Mans.
Only one man has won all three in his career – the late Graham Hill in the 1960s.
Alonso, who won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007, said: “It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it.
“I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35. I’ve got plenty of time for that.”
The Spaniard added he would definitely race for McLaren for the rest of the season, dismissing speculation he could quit part way through the year because of the Honda F1 engine’s poor performance.
“It’s of course a regret that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year,” he said. “But Monaco will be the only 2017 grand prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.
“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a super-speedway, but I’m confident I’ll get to grips with it fast.
McLaren have supported Alonso’s wishes because they recognise the efforts he has been putting in – and the frustration he is feeling – after three uncompetitive seasons since joining the team in 2015.
Button tweeted a jokey reaction last week after the news of Alonso’s Indy programme was announced, asking: “Why do I have so many missed calls?”
Button’s compatriot and former team-mate, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, said: “I hope Jenson comes back and it will be great for the sport if Jenson comes in.
“Jenson is still one of the best drivers in the world and his calibre and experience make him the best choice.”
Hamilton and Button drove together at McLaren between 2010 and 2012.