JENSON Button will return to the Formula One grid for a one-off appearance at next month’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Button, 37, will replace Fernando Alonso, who is heading to the United States for the Indianapolis 500 which takes place on the same weekend.

The British driver, who treated 2016’s final race in Abu Dhabi as the last of his 17-season career, will team up with Belgiumn’s Stoffel Vandoorne for McLaren at the Monte Carlo race on May 28.

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Button remains under contract with McLaren after agreeing a two-year ambassadorial role, but he has yet to drive this year’s car.

“It’s a tricky street circuit on which a good driver can really make a difference and, although the McLaren-Honda hasn’t begun the season well, I think it may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando and Stoffel have raced it on so far this season.”

Sebastian Vettel got his weekend off to the best possible start after he topped the timesheets in opening practice for the third round of the championship in Bahrain.

The Ferrari driver is tied on points with Lewis Hamilton at the summit of the title race, but the latter posted only the 10th-best time in the first of two practice sessions yesterday.

But the triple world champion, and his Mercedes team, focused on mileage here rather than outright speed, with the soaring 40-degree heat not representative of the cooler conditions for qualifying and the race which both take place in the evening.

Indeed, while Vettel’s best lap of one minute 32.697 seconds saw him finish 0.400 secs clear of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, Hamilton, who completed the most laps (28) was the best part of two seconds adrift. His Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was 14th.

Although Vettel finished at the top of the order, there were problems in the sister Ferrari as his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen’s session came to a sudden halt with smoke billowing out of his engine.

The Finnish driver was forced to pull over before he trudged back to the Ferrari garage without making any attempt to remove his crash helmet or lower his overalls despite the sweltering heat.

Fernando Alonso will miss next month’s Monaco Grand Prix as he heads to the United States to take on the Indianapolis 500, and the Spaniard, who will be replaced by Jenson Button, was eighth of the 20 runners on Friday.

But there were further troubles for his McLaren team after Stoffel Vandoorne stopped on track at turn 10 following a problem with his Honda engine.

Jolyon Palmer is another to have endured a troubled start to his campaign and, despite reporting a power issue with his Renault engine, the Briton was 15th on Friday, only marginally slower than team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s one-time long-serving ruler, is back in the paddock for the first time this weekend after being ousted by new owners Liberty Media.

And the 86-year-old watched on from the confines of the Red Bull motorhome - first with team principal Christian Horner - and then Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman. Ecclestone’s wife Fabiana was also present.

Elsewhere, Sergio Perez finished fourth for Force India with the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll fifth and sixth.