LONDON (Reuters) – Jenson Button has withdrawn from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and will be replaced at SMP Racing by his former McLaren Formula One team mate Stoffel Vandoorne, the Russian team said on Friday.
Belgian Vandoorne, who left Formula One at the end of 2018 and is now competing in the Formula E electric series, will also replace New Zealander Brendon Hartley at the Six Hours of Spa World Endurance Championship (WEC) round on May 4.
Button, the 2009 Formula One world champion, cited his partner’s pregnancy as a reason for withdrawing from Le Mans, the highlight of the WEC season on June 15-16.
“I really enjoyed driving for SMP Racing and was happy to be on the podium with this team, but I decided that now I need to spend more time at home with my fiancé during her pregnancy rather than two weeks at Le Mans,” the Briton said in an SMP statement.
“The decision has been made easier for me as I feel that the Toyota is currently unbeatable.”
Toyota finished one-two last year and are the only major manufacturer competing in the top LMP1 class after Audi and Porsche withdrew.
Button endured a disappointing debut last year when his SMP car suffered a sensor problem early in the race and before he had even got on track. When he did, it was in last position and the car was ultimately retired.
SMP said former Toro Rosso F1 driver Hartley was unavailable for Spa, a home race for Vandoorne, due to other commitments.
“The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula One. I will have the opportunity to re-join ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my successful campaign in GP2,” said Vandoorne.
ART run the car for SMP. The 27-year-old Belgian will partner Russian drivers Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin at both races.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Alison Williams)