Jenson Button surprised the F1 paddock at Monza by announcing he is taking a sabbatical in 2017.
Asked if he is retiring, the McLaren driver said: “That is a terrible word and I’m definitely not doing that.”
In a typical announcement by the British outfit, which is overseen by the detail-obsessed Ron Dennis, McLaren said it would have an “innovative three-driver strategy” next year.
It comprises Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne on the grid, with 36-year-old Button signing a new two-year deal that could involve him returning in 2018.
But when asked if he thinks Button will come back, F1 pundit Marc Surer told Speed Week: “No, I don’t think so.
“But this strategy is not bad. They probably thought about what will happen if Fernando suddenly throws in the towel because the car is not better next year.
“In that case, they have Button who can step in again.”
Asked if he thinks Button is therefore voluntarily stepping aside, former Swiss F1 driver Surer answered: “No, McLaren had no choice. They had to sign Vandoorne, otherwise they would have lost him.”