By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - The return of former principal Ron Dennis to a more hands-on role at McLaren will boost the hurting Formula One team this season, Jenson Button said on Friday.
Dennis ousted Martin Whitmarsh as group chief executive last week, with the latter now expected to vacate the role of team principal as well before the championship starts in Australia in March.
McLaren presented their new MP4-29 car online on Friday with Whitmarsh conspicuous by his absence. Senior management made clear that Dennis, who ran the team from 1982 to 2009, was again calling the shots and Button said he was excited by the prospect.
"I have spoken to Ron a lot over the last few days...he is very excited about his role and he is very hungry," said the Briton who won his 2009 title with Brawn GP.
Dennis presided over some of the team's greatest years, with Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost, and Button said that history was another strength.
"He's a true racer, he's a true fighter and he really has built this team up over the years," Button told reporters.
"It's good for the team, it's good for Ron that he has the chance to really drive this team on again," he said in his first comments about the changeover.
"Everyone here is excited about the challenge of 2014 with Ron in charge."
McLaren need to move up a gear after a dismal 2013 without a single podium finish, their worst performance since 1980, that saw the former champions end up fifth overall in the constructors' standings.
While Dennis has resumed overall control, he is not expected to take on the active role of principal on the pit wall. Frenchman Eric Boullier, who was replaced as Lotus principal on Friday, is now seen as a likely candidate.
Button said he was aware of the rumors but did not know any more about the situation.
Managing director Jonathan Neale, who worked closely with Dennis in the past, said the 66-year-old - a company shareholder whose main focus in recent years has been developing McLaren's sportscar business - had lost none of his energy.
"For those that know Ron, he is as fired up as he ever has been, probably more passionate now than ever," he declared.
"If ever there was somebody who had a very strong vision and a sense of true worth and how it is to win in Formula One and why that is important, he has got it in spades," said Neale. "It's exciting times."
Button is still coming to terms with the sudden death of his father John, a constant companion on the circuit, and the loss was still too raw for him to talk about.
He said everything had gone through his mind, including taking time out from Formula One, but he was now looking forward to racing again.
"It is going to be a challenge for us all with the regulations but it is an exciting challenge and there is so much for us to learn still," Button added.
"So I am looking forward to a year where I am going to put everything into this sport and leave nothing on the table. I am looking forward to getting on with it next week."
Testing starts at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain on Tuesday, with Button in the car for the first two days.
"I think every single person in Formula One is sitting on the edge of the unknown," he said of a season that sees major technical changes including the introduction of a new V6 turbocharged engine with energy recovery systems.
"There will be lots of things going through my mind when I settle myself into the cockpit for the first time in Jerez."+
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Tony Jimenez)