McLaren Technology Group COO Jonathan Neale has rejected suggestions that Jenson Button is not fully committed to his one-off return with the Woking Formula 1 team in Monaco.
The fact that the former world champion turned down a chance to test the MCL32 and concentrate instead on running Monaco in the simulator has been cited as one example of a possible lack of enthusiasm on the part of Button.
Button has put much of his focus on his Ironman Triathlon ambitions since his last F1 start in Abu Dhabi in November.
Former F1 driver Mark Webber said earlier this month that the Briton was “not very interested” in his return to F1.
But Neale insists that Button has been doing all the necessary preparation behind the scenes to be ready for Monaco.
“I’ve read that and I’ve seen that, but I don’t necessarily agree with it,” Neale told Motorsport.com.
“I think Jenson is certainly putting time in behind the scenes to prepare well for it.
“He’s done multiple sessions in the simulator, just doing the one track. And also just familiarising himself with the car, the tyres, the power unit, the balance, and the braking performance.
“I think he’s got his head in for this race, without a shadow of a doubt.
“Monaco is perhaps one of those circuits where the driver contribution matters proportionately more than on other circuits, he knows it well, he’s been very successful there, and he’s a good racer.
“It’s Monaco, anything could happen, but you nudge the odds in your favour by being well-prepared and putting World Champions in the car.”
Regarding suggestions from the likes Webber that Button was not taking his return seriously, he said: “He’s good mates with Webber, and I don’t dispute that there’s a lot of banter going on on the background.
“I think it’s good natured banter, and I think we’ll see him focused.”
Neale believes that Button’s six-month absence from the cockpit will not be an issue.
“I’m not a driver, so I don’t know, but I think he’s going to be fine. I suspect what you’ve said is what Stoffel is hoping for, because wouldn’t it be nice if Stoffel [Vandoorne] kicked his arse!
“He’s a world champion, he’s a classy guy, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Neale acknowledged that Button has plenty of other interests to occupy him now that he’s not committed to a full-time drive.
“Jenson is a competitive guy, whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, motor racing, he wants to be competitive.
“I think he’s worked incredibly hard, and the drivers sacrifice a lot through their young years, so why would be not be enjoying some of the things he wants to do on his agenda?
“So I completely get that. There are worse things to do than hang out in California! But at the end of the day he’s still a racer at heart, and it will be nice to have him back.”