By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Jenson Button, the last driver to win a grand prix for Honda, was thrilled to discover on Thursday that the Japanese carmaker was returning to Formula One as engine partner to his McLaren team from 2015.
The British 2009 world champion, who won the Hungarian Grand Prix for Honda in 2006 and drove for them until they quit the sport two years later, said the announcement in Tokyo was great news for all F1 fans.
"I grew up watching McLaren-Honda Formula One cars racing and winning around the world - they wrote their own glorious chapter of Formula One history, in fact," the 33-year-old said in a McLaren statement.
"Even now, picturing those unmistakable red-and-white cars evokes vivid memories of some of the most dramatic and exciting motor racing the world has ever seen.
"McLaren-Honda: I know how much passion, success and pride are encapsulated within just those two words. And that's why I'm so thrilled and excited about what's not only a fantastic opportunity for the team, but also a great development for Formula One fans and the sport as a whole."
Honda and McLaren announced earlier a multi-year deal, renewing a highly evocative partnership that flourished from 1988 to 1992 when the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost dominated the sport.
McLaren, celebrating their 50th anniversary this season, won 15 of the season's 16 races in 1988. Together, McLaren and Honda claimed eight world championships and 44 grands prix, took 53 pole positions and set 30 fastest laps.
That 1988 success came at the end of the sport's "turbo era" and the regulations are changing again in 2014 with the introduction of a new turbo-charged 1.6 liter V6 engine with energy recovery systems.
McLaren will use a power unit provided by former shareholders Mercedes next year.
Button, who has a Japanese girlfriend and regards the country as a second home, has been closely associated with Honda since he joined the then-BAR Honda team from Renault in 2003.
The Hungary win was the first of his 15 victories to date in Formula One.
"I know exactly how passionate Honda is about motorsport, and Formula One in particular," said Button, who moved to McLaren at the end of 2009.
"The challenge set by Formula One's new technical regulations provides Honda with the perfect opportunity to return to the pinnacle of motorsport."
Honda's return, the first by a major manufacturer since they, Toyota and BMW all left during the global economic recession, was also welcomed by the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
"It is a great pleasure to see Honda back in Formula One. Their engine technology and passion for motorsport make them a natural Formula One contender," the 82-year-old billionaire said.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said the partnership opened a "new and extremely exciting chapter" in McLaren's history.
"We're hugely committed to the success of the partnership, and we'll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we're fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015," he added.
"It's a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren-Honda to the very pinnacle of Formula One success. Together we have a great legacy - and we're utterly committed to maintaining it."
(Editing by John O'Brien)