| MONZA, Italy
MONZA, Italy McLaren boss Ron Dennis was at pains to point out on Saturday that Jenson Button was not retiring from Formula One at the end of the season but there are no guarantees the 2009 champion will race again either.
"Forget the word 'retirement'," Dennis said of the 36-year-old Briton after Button had outlined plans at the Italian Grand Prix to step back next year and become a team 'ambassador' rather than race driver.
"That is not in the vocabulary, that is not what we are saying."
McLaren have been there before, with double world champion Mika Hakkinen taking a 'sabbatical' at the end of the 2001 season that the Finn never returned from after compatriot Kimi Raikkonen took his place.
Other drivers have taken time out, including Raikkonen in 2010 and 2011, but age is not on Button's side and nor is the sport with big rule changes next year.
Like Hakkinen, Button is handing over to a hungry, young talent in Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne but, unlike the Finn, will stay around as a potential reserve.
The deal includes an option to return in 2018 as a race driver but a number of factors will have to come into play for that to happen.
One is Button's own desire, which remains uncertain given the Honda-powered team's lack of performance.
"I’m really excited about this. I don’t really know where it is going to take us in the future but it gives me the opportunity to live my life like I haven’t as an adult, ever," he said.
He will attend some races in 2017, carrying out simulator work and using his experience to help McLaren become more competitive.
Dennis expected Vandoorne to have a long future at McLaren, which means the only route for Button to return would be if team mate Fernando Alonso leaves or someone is hurt.
In the meantime, Button serves effectively as an insurance policy as well as strengthening the team's hand in any negotiations with the Spaniard, who knows they have a ready replacement.
"You think through everything but that isn’t the purpose of this series of contracts," said Dennis.
"Formula One is an addictive sport and stopping any form of addiction is challenging. This offer which I made to Jenson really reflects the esteem in which the whole team holds him.
"There is no reason why he shouldn’t come back and race in 2018," added Dennis.
"This was an innovative way to provide the team with all the advantages of having Jenson in the team, complete with his ability to drive if necessary and give him what he wanted with a bit of relaxation time."
Dennis said the team would see how things panned out before taking any decision about 2018 but Button was unlikely to drive for anyone else having turned down offers from other teams.
"We’ve been very open in saying that Jenson has a two-year contract. The option is with the team and we’ll get there and decide whether we are going to exercise it or not," he explained.
"What is clear is that if Jenson is going to drive a Formula One car in 2018, I believe it can only be at McLaren. That’s really how it’s structured."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)