Malaysian Grand Prix starts Sunday
Jenson Button set for 300th Grand Prix start
Fernando Alonso facing 30-place grid penalty
Sunday’s Malaysian GP looks set to deliver a tale of two former world champions who have fallen on hard times.
While Jenson Button will be looking back on a stellar career as he marks his 300th grand prix start, teammate Fernando Alonso will be looking forward as he starts from the very back of the 22-man Sepang grid.
Back to front?
Preparation has not been ideal. Alonso incurred a 30-place penalty for trialing an upgraded Honda power unit in practice Friday.
But what the Spaniard loses in qualifying position he may gain later in the season from a lighter engine block and redesigned exhaust aimed at boosting the power unit’s efficiency.
“We knew these penalties would come,” admitted Alonso, who was also dealt an engine-related penalty at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit last month.
“One of the best places [to trial a new power unit] was Spa because of the conditions of our engines at that point. The second best was maybe Malaysia because the weather could play a big factor in the race.”
While the big points may once again be beyond Alonso on Sunday, the two-time world champion has every reason to be confident, having made up 14 places to seventh in this scenario last time out.
And he has pedigree in Malaysia, too.
“I’ve won this race three times before so I have happy memories,” Alonso told reporters. “The Malaysian Grand Prix is always a fun event and among the drivers’ favorites on the calendar.
“We’ll be aiming to continue the momentum from the past couple of races and get a strong result there again this year.”
But even if neither is where they ought to be in the standings – with an inferior car hampering the quest for serious points since 2015’s reformulation of the McLaren Honda partnership – both can nonetheless reflect on special F1 careers.
Seven years on from his world championship triumph with Brawn GP, Button will become just the third man in history to reach 300 F1 starts.
“It definitely sucks you in,” said Button of his long career. “It doesn’t let go for a long time, as long as you are performing.”
No wonder. He’s now been performing at the top level since the turn of the millennium and, joining Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in the 300 club, the Englishman admits he never expected to come so far.
“I remember when Rubens got to 300, it was unbelievable … I was like, ‘I’m never going to race for that long.’ And here I am…”
Button may be coming to the end of the road now – especially after he announced he’d take up an ambassadorial role with McLaren next season – but that’s not dampened his excitement going forward.
The 36-year-old calls the undulating Sepang circuit a “modern classic … one of those tracks that drivers enjoy going back to.”
And as he moves one step closer to Barrichello’s all-time record of 326 races, he’s aware you’ve got to treasure these moments.
“I’ve had lots of ups and downs, as every career will have, and the important thing is that you stay on top of those bad times and you enjoy the good times as much as you can, because you never know how long they are going to last.”
The good times may be over for both Button and Alonso, but beyond a quiet chapter lies a storied history.