London - Jenson Button will go into the British Grand Prix with his future as uncertain as at any time in his distinguished 15-year career.
Button, 34, is out of contract at McLaren at the end of the season and the team is waiting to see how the driver market shakes up before deciding whether to offer the 2009 world champion a new deal.
Sportsmail understands that Fernando Alonso (of Ferrari) is at the top of McLaren’s short list, with Lewis Hamilton a maverick possibility to return to the team that nurtured his talent.
A source close to McLaren said the hierarchy believe that Button is ‘a tenth or two’ short of the speed they want to help them escape the mediocrity of recent seasons.
Ron Dennis said after last Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix that they were “not looking to finalise our driver line-up now” - hardly a ringing endorsement of Button.
Much depends on whether Alonso is ready to join McLaren at the start of their engine partnership with Honda, which begins for next season, or would rather see out the final year of his Ferrari contract before committing.
It is understood that McLaren would have no reluctance in signing Alonso despite the acrimonious year they spent together in 2007.
Their less favoured option is Hamilton, although he would only leave Mercedes if he loses out on the title to his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Even if Alonso or Hamilton joined, Button could yet be preferred to McLaren’s other driver, rookie Kevin Magnussen.
Button is certainly confident the British Grand Prix on July 6 will not be his last. “Not as far as I know,” he said. “I don’t know why McLaren wouldn’t take me for next year. The delay is just the way it is for a big team. We will leave it to the last moment to make a decision.”
Button is popular with the team and sponsors, as well as being experienced and reliable.
“It’s not necessary to talk about contracts right now because they’ve got other things to focus on, like making the car quicker,” he said.