Jenson Button: A 'true superstar', but was he an F1 great?
Former world champion expects season finale in Abu Dhabi to be his final race as a Formula One driver
Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is almost certain to be Jenson Button's last race in F1, marking the end of a 16-year career for the 2009 world champion.
The McLaren driver initially elected to take a one-year sabbatical in 2017, but it now seems he is unlikely to return to the cockpit after posting on Instagram that he was going into the season finale "with the mindset that it's my last race in F1".
Button made his debut in the Australian Grand Prix in 2000 and has started 304 races since then - this weekend will be his 305th. He is the longest-serving driver on the grid and remains one of the most popular at the age of 36.
"Button certainly deserves a break," says Matt Maltby of Mail Online. "The Somerset-born driver has dedicated his life to F1 and should be given a hero's welcome when he arrives for Sunday's grand prix.
"Unlike his former team-mate [Lewis] Hamilton, the one-time world champion doesn't divide opinion in the paddock. He's a favourite among fans, teams and drivers alike and when he won a stunning world title in 2009, it was perhaps a reward for his hard graft and determination to succeed in the sport."
He is a "true superstar" of racing, says Andrew Benson of the BBC. "Along with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, Button has been a member of a group who were at the forefront of what in future years will be looked back on as a golden era of F1 talent."
F1 is losing "an exceptional driver and an intelligent and thoughtful character", he adds. "In the car, some of Button's wins have been among the greatest there have ever been, in some of the most exciting races."
His astonishing victory in the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix - "when he climbed from last to first in 30 spellbinding laps" - stands out, as does his solitary world title in 2009 for the short-lived Brawn racing team, achieved on a shoestring budget and borrowed Mercedes engines.
Paul Weaver of The Guardian says that although he was one of F1's most popular champions, "greatness eluded Button". But he possessed "a natural poise, style and a mastery of wet conditions that few drivers can match".
Button is not the only veteran to be bowing out after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Felipe Massa is also quitting F1 and there is a "valedictory atmosphere" at the circuit, adds Weaver.
Even though they are leaving F1 at something of a low ebb, the two veterans are hopeful for its future."Instead of being overcome with sentiment both drivers looked forward to a brave new world in the sport, one not dominated by a single team, which has been the case with Mercedes this year," says Weaver.