Monday, 3 October 2011

The Curious Case of Jenson Button

Firstly, apologies for the unoriginal title, it had to be done.

Jenson Button has had an unusual career in Formula 1. Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons it looked like his career may be over. It was in real danger of becoming a wasted talent. We would have had no idea how much of a wasted talent it was, either.

His early career was a story of inexperience and poor focus and then he made some bad career moves with the BAR/Williams contract negotiations. 2004 and 2006 were good years for him, with a 3rd place championship finish in 2004 with his first win (unsurprisingly) in changeable conditions in Hungary 2006. However, the disastrous Honda's of 2007/8 and the emergence of Lewis Hamilton saw Jenson's stock fall a massive amount.

Once Honda pulled out of F1, it did look like Jenson had much of a career left. Most of the talk before Brawn GP were announced was that he had only Toro Rosso as an alternative option. Thankfully, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry saved the team. We almost missed one of the best F1 cars ever. With minimal testing they took a 1-2 on their first Grand Prix.

This is when Jenson showed what he can do. When the Brawn car was the best on the grid, he won. 6 out of the first 7 races. China, the one he failed to win, saw the Red Bulls dominate in the wet. By Silverstone, the Red Bulls had caught up. And it wasn't too much longer for the McLarens and Ferrari's to be mixing with the front runners.

Jenson then drove like we expect him to now. Qualifying wasn't brilliant, he often had bad starts but he kept his head and maximized the points he could get from the weekend. Combined with an absolutely brilliant Brazilian Grand Prix, he was World Champion with a race to spare.

The move to McLaren shocked F1 and lead to many people saying it was a mistake, that he wouldn't be able to cope with Lewis Hamilton.

"It's a mistake and will be like walking into the lion's den for Jenson," - Sir Jackie Stewart

"Jenson has entered the lion's den. It was madness of him to move [from Brawn]. He thinks he's going to be able to eat his steak, and that's not going to be the case – I think he's going to get murdered. It's the worst decision he could have made." - Eddie Irvine

We are now almost 2 years in on the partnership and Jenson is on course to become the first man to beat Lewis Hamilton as team mates. His calm approach to racing, combined with 4 fantastic wins in tricky conditions have made him in demand. He walked into the lion's den when very few people gave him a chance and he is performing admirably. His lead over Lewis is all the more impressive when you take into account that despite 2 DNF's each, neither of Jenson's were his fault and both of Lewis' retirements came down to mistakes.

He is now one of the most desirable drivers to have. He has shown he can consistently score good points, win races and not cause any inter team grief. There is persistant talk of a move to partner Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, there has also been talk of a move to Red Bull. I expect him to stay with McLaren until at least the end of 2014. The talk of him being in this situation when Honda left the sport is unthinkable.

I can't think of a career turnaround so dramatic as this.

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