Jenson Button celebrates his 300th race start at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, in what has been a long and successful career.
Having announced he will be stepping down from his race seat at the McLaren-Honda F1 team at the end of the season to take a sabbatical in 2017, TCF takes a look back at some of the Brit’s career highlights …from his first, his last, to his everything!
Stepping up in the world…
It is fitting that we arrive in Malaysia this weekend, the location of Button’s first podium back in 2004, and the start of his rise to greatness.
Despite not having the best of start’s to the grand prix, coming into contact with the Renault of Jarno Trulli, as they battled for position at the first corner, Button kept his cool and went on to finish in third place, two seconds clear of the advancing Scuderia Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.
It had been a long time coming for the Brit, who started his F1 career with the Williams F1 team back in 2000, but that maiden visit to the podium set the ball rolling for Button, who went onto secure nine podiums in total that season, marking his most impressive year in F1 to date, at that time.
Sweet little victory…
Button has always been considered somewhat of a wet weather master, especially when faced with a drying track. His inbuilt instinct for when to come in and switch tyres coupled with the smooth racing style that allows him to really get a feel for conditions is second to none, and has served him extremely well throughout his years in F1.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2006, the Brit’s prowess really came to the fore, as the race started in pouring rain. Button had started down in fourteenth place despite qualifying in fourth, after receiving a ten place grid penalty for an engine change. Whilst those around him began to slide off track in the tricky conditions, the then Honda man was able to keep his car on the road, and swiftly advanced through the field.
When a safety car was deployed on lap 27, after the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen hit the lapped Vitantonio Liuzzi and sprayed debris across the track, Button was the only driver on the lead lap not to take advantage and make a pit stop; moving him up to second place behind Fernando Alonso.
That call from the Brit was to prove ingenious, and allowed Button to chase down Alonso, the only driver now up ahead of him. Button made his final pit stop first taking just a small amount of fuel onboard and was immediately the fastest man on track, lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the race leader, despite not dispensing of this worn intermediates.
Alonso pitted a few laps later and fueled his car to see him through to the end of the race, however a driveshaft issue forced the Spaniard to retire, and denied the fans the chance of seeing a close battle between Alonso and Button, who had been challenging the Spaniard for the lead.
The Brit did not put a foot wrong all race, whilst many other more experienced drivers did, and thoroughly deserved that long overdue first victory…even if it did take him 115 attempts!
It’s not over until the fat lady sings…
At the end of the 2008 Formula One season, Button’s Honda F1 team made a shocking withdrawal from the sport in December of that year, just two months prior to the start of the 2009 season. Button’s future was looking bleak, until at the final hour, just three weeks prior to the start of the season, Ross Brawn confirmed he had bought out the Honda team he had headed up as Team Principal, and the new squad would race under his name as Brawn GP.
To everyone’s amazement the BGP001 car performed beyond all expectation, and it dominated the 2009 season, seeing Button take victory in six out of the first seven races, an unbelievable turn of events considering just a few months earlier his F1 career had looked all but over.
Having been born out of the demise of the Honda F1 team, it was a miracle the team were ever ready in time never mind good enough to win a title, but win it they did. The car was quick from the off, the controversial double diffuser a stroke of genius from Brawn whose technical prowess gave the squad a much needed edge over their rivals.
We are the champions…
Brawn GP went on to completely outperform the competition over the first half of the season, which was good enough to see them become the first new constructor to win both the Driver and Constructors titles since Alfa Romeo in 1950, in the process.
Those first few rounds were the stuff dreams are made of for the Brit, but a more unpredictable second half of the year saw the rest of the field close in on his well forged out lead.
A resurgence from Red Bull Racing and strong competition from team-mate Barrichello kept Button honest, but in the end no-one was quite able to do enough to overthrow Button from that top spot, and he went on to clinch the championship title at the penultimate race of the season in Brazil, along with the Constructor’s title also being sealed for the team.
A fifth place finish for Button, in what was a superb recovery drive from the Brit after starting from fourteenth on the grid, was enough to crown him champion, and led to the now infamous broadcast of Button singing ‘We are the champions’ over team radio.
Never say never…
The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix is one that will go down in F1 folklore as one of not just Button’s finest moments, but F1’s too.
As a long time F1 fan, going back 23 years, I can honestly say I have never jumped up and cheered the way I did when Button passed Sebastian Vettel on that final lap! It was a phenomenal drive from the Brit who never gave up on the chance at victory for one second, despite a number of obstacles coming his way.
Six pit stops, a drive-through penalty, a collision with then team-mate Lewis Hamilton during the early part of the race, and another later on with Alonso, saw Button move to the very back of the grid at one point in the race. A drying track, was once again to become Button’s savior however.
The race started under the safety car due to persistent rain, and was chaotic from the get-go. No sooner were the drivers released on lap 5 than a collision for Hamilton first with the Red Bull of Mark Webber and then his own team-mate Button, saw the safety car return to the track just three laps later.
The Brit was the first to pit for intermediate tyres and quickly began to lap faster than anyone else, which prompted race leaders to make the same move. The rain started to come down heavier at that point however and after a brief safety car spell, the race was suspended on lap 25. A two hour delay later, and the action got back under way behind the safety car, until conditions were deemed safe enough on lap 34 and the drivers were once again allowed to race.
The track had begun to dry rapidly during the safety car period and the majority of drivers pitted for intermediates, before a further safety car was deployed for a coming together between Button and Alonso, which saw the Spaniard have to retire from the race.
Button meanwhile was relegated to the back of the grid following the incident when the racing began once again on lap 40. Shrewd decisions on when to switch to the intermediate tyres and then dry weather slicks however, saw the Brit climb through the field at a phenomenal rate.
With twelve laps to go Button was sitting in fourth place behind Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Webber and looking strong, before a further safety car was called out to deal with a collision between Nick Heidfeld and Kamui Kobayashi.
Three laps later the grand prix re-started and the race to the finish was on! Vettel, who was in first place at the re-start, immediately stole a break on his rivals whilst they all battled for position.
An error from Webber saw him slip down to fourth, whilst Button closed in on Schumacher before passing the German with just five laps remaining, and began his charge to hunt down Vettel.
With just one lap remaining, the Brit had closed the gap to within a second of the German and was really going for it, it was only a matter of time before he would be within touching distance. The pressure from behind proved too much for Vettel, and the German got a wheel on a wet part of the track at Turn 6, which saw him half spin before catching the RB7, but it was too late, Button flew past Vettel into the lead and onward to victory!
The last hoorah…
From 2010 – 2012 Button enjoyed a competitive time with the McLaren F1 team, but their high level performance was not to last, and the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2012 was sadly to be the last time Button would taste victory.
Having qualified in second alongside team-mate Hamilton, Button made a smooth getaway as rain began to fall. It was a pretty uneventful race for the Brit, who was handed the lead on lap 54 and never looked back, whilst elsewhere in the field a thrilling title race was unfolding between Vettel and Alonso that would decide that year’s champion.
Despite a number of setbacks for the German during the race, including a coming together with the Williams of Bruno Senna, which saw the German spin and end up facing the wrong way on track, he was still able to emerge victorious by managing to secure sixth place, the minimum race position he needed to hand him the championship title by just two points from the Spaniard.
The race finished under the safety car and Button crossed the line as race winner, a fantastic way to end the season, which the Brit proffered was a good omen for 2013 – but little did he know what hardship was to be around the corner!
A final farewell…
Button can be extremely proud of what has been a highly successful career. He is one of the most likable drivers in the paddock and has been a credit to the sport he loves since making his debut in F1 with Williams, fifteen years ago.
Although the Brit is adamant this is not goodbye forever, having signed a two-year contract deal with McLaren that could see him return to a race seat with the Woking based team in 2018, it is sadly unlikely that we will see him competing at the top level in a F1 car, after the 2016 season ends.
Button will be replaced by upcoming protégé Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren in 2017, whilst he himself will take up a role as Ambassador and development driver during his time out from the front line.
It is not all doom and gloom for Button fan’s however, as there are still six rounds (including this weekend) of the season remaining to be able to get your 2009 world champion fix, and as he will have more free time on his hands in 2017, we could yet see him try his hand at other ventures in the public eye, in the very near future.
Next year however, Jenson Button’s skill, charm, charisma and personality, will be well and truly missed.