Jenson Button: the driver debates

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jenson Button, Honda, Barcelona, 2008, 470150

The subject of this week’s driver debate is Jenson Button, whose career has had more ups and downs than a malfunctioning elevator.

How do you rate Jenson Button – and will he ever win another race?

Jenson Button was a Formula Three driver in 1999 but the following season was catapulted into a drive with one of Britain’s most historic teams: Williams. It came about after Williams cut their contract with Alessandro Zanardi a year short, and needed a driver for one year until Juan Pablo Montoya came along.

Button did a very respectable job in his first season, scoring points in his second race (becoming the youngest driver ever to do so until Sebastian Vettel last year) and finishing an impressive fourth in the rain at the Hockenheimring. He qualified third on his first visit to the mighy Spa-Francorchamps.

A disastrous season at the declining Benetton followed, although he recovered the following season as the team became Renault. There was no place for him at the team any more though, as Flavio Briatore dropped him for his own man Fernando Alonso (which, you have to say, worked out alright for them).

So Button ended up at BAR where he’s been ever since, the team becoming Honda in 2006. He chased Jacques Villeneuve into retirement in his first season and came of age in 2004 with a string of podium finishes, though never able to beat the rampant Ferraris to claim that elusive first win.

It didn’t happen in 2005 either – the team were nowhere in the first half of the season and thrown out of three races for running with illegal fuel tanks.

Finally in 2006 after 115 attempts Button scored an opportunistic but badly deserved win in the rain at Hungary from 14th on the grid. He was assisted by Alonso’s retirement that day, but Button had been catching him at the time and we were robbed of what might have been a thrilling battle between the pair.

The season ended on a high. But 2007 was a disaster the likes of which Button could not possibly have imagined. The unpredictable and dog-slow RA107 made a mockery of his talent, and he scraped together just four points by the season’s end – though still four more than team mate Rubens Barrichello.

Is he a great talent struggling to escape inadequate machinery? It’s easy to assume that the best drivers automatically find their way into the best cars, but that isn’t always true.

However, Button didn’t exert the kind of cast-iron dominance over team mates like of Jarno Trulli early in his career that would have made him a ‘must-sign’ driver for McLaren or Ferrari.

The embarrassment of the two ‘Button-gate’ years of 2004 and 2005 (when Williams and BAR squabbled over his contract) has now receded into memory. Whatever debt of service he owed the team for trying to dump them during their excellent 2004 season it he has now surely paid for with the purgatory he suffered last year.

With Ross Brawn on board it’s time for Honda to give Button the car he deserves so he can go racing at the front again.

What do you think of Jenson Button?

Jenson Button biography

Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, Spa-Francorchamps, 2000, 470313

55 comments on “Jenson Button: the driver debates”

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  1. the "buttongate" affairs make him hard to sign! he only goes back on it once he signs it anyway!
    he is good but not great!

  2. I think he’s close to the best of the rest.

    There are probably four tiers of drivers in F1:

    1) Drivers who might win world championships
    2) Drivers who might win races
    3) Drivers who are okay
    4) Drivers who should never have been there in the first place.

    He’s probably near the top of category 2.

  3. Scott Joslin
    29th April 2008, 8:48

    Button has got good driving talent. I feel he is better than some guys out there in better machinery such as Massa, Kovi, or Heidfeld, and if he was put in their cars I am sure he would win much more races. I don’t think he has the raw pace like Kimi, Lewis and Alonso, but he has superb race craft I would aliken to Alain Prost.

    Where Button falls short is in the ability to position himself in the right team at the right time. His on/off saga between Williams and Honda cast the die that has put him in his current position.

    Do I think Jenson will win another race? Sadly not. By the time Ross Brawn sorts Honda out, Jenson’s stock will be low due to the new kids on the block.

  4. I mostly agree with andronov, hes 4 types are a good brief explanation.
    This weekend i read some declarations of Ross Brwan asked if he would want to hire Alonso, he said that when they would reach the top level they needed a driver that makes the difference and Alonso is one of them. More or less, so could we assume he doesn´t think nor Button nor Barrichello are among these drivers that makes a difference?

  5. One word: overrated
    I did feel sorry for him a little bit when he got pushed way beyond his means by the British media at the beginning of his career, but when this then got to his head I started to dislike this average driver.
    Now the emergence of Hamilton has taken the focus of the media away from him, I think he has calmed down a little.

  6. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    29th April 2008, 9:29

    i wouldnt go as far as michael and say he i over rated but the british press certainly didnt help claiming he was britains next world champion. Sadly in britain the press have a habbit of celebrating mediocrity and thers no better example of that than tim henman.

    I think if button was in a top car hed do a good job but he hasnt go the raw pace that alonso, kimi, hamilton and maybe even kubica have. i think hed make a good number 2 to someone like alonso.

    Also you look at most of the great drivers in the past they all got theyr first wins early in their career. Senna won in his 2nd season after he impressed in a toleman in 84. Prost won his 1st race in 1980 i think, not totallt sure about that 1. Schumacher won in his 1st full season. Alonso won in his 2nd season after impressing for minardi. the top f1 drivers dont end up at the best teams by luck its because they impress in lesser cars eg senna in a toleman, schumacher in a jordan, kimi in a sauber. Thats what makes them stand out and thats why the top teams want them. Jenson didnt outscore ralf schumacher in his 1st season, and although ralf was rated quite highly back then jenson had the 3rd best car on the grid at his disposal , he didnt impress enough to keep a drive with a top team.

    on his day jenson can be very good but hel never be a world champion and id be suprised if he ended up with more than 5 wins.

  7. So near, yet so far, pretty much sums up Jenson.

  8. Everyone seems to be in agreement here: Jenson is a good, maybe even very good driver.   But will he ever win the championship?  Probably not.  He’ll need to be at the right place at the right time in the perfect circumstances to win even just one title.

    That being said, he’s had some great or even brilliant drives, notably Germany 2000, Germany 2001, Malaysia 2002 (where he was cruelly robbed of his 1st podium on the final lap), USA 2003 (where an engine blow also robbed him of a podium), Germany 2004, Belgium 2005, Hungary 2006, and China 2007.

  9. I really rate Jenson.  He has one of the smoothest driving styles out there.  His 2004 season shows how good he can be with a good car under him. 

    Granted he has his moments, but he is a character and I always admire his honesty in pre race interviews.  I totally agree with Michael about his exposure, but I think now that the media is off his back he seems to be enjoying racing again.

    Can he win a championship… I hope so!

  10. I rate him alot.  Its amazing he can drive that well considering he hardly moves the wheel.

    he’s been signed by honda again for 3 years, all the toil has been repaid to him by the signing of ross brawn.

  11. I’am still not sure about  Button, sure enough he is a decent driver. But there is some ticks against him. For example in his 2004 season he did have a decent car during some stages of the season properly the second best car. But he didn’t manage to score a win, while Alonso and Kimi in lesser cars did managed to score a win. He also sometimes seem to disappear when he doesn’t have good car, although he did do a relatively good job last year. He also isn’t exactly doing Shumacher like performances against a much older Barrichello.

    But I think he has done some maturing though the recent lean years and it will be interesting to see how he will apply it in a competitive car. He definitely has the potential to win a few more races, if he will have the chance to do so is more difficult to say, he has definitely been unluckily with his team choices much like Webber.

    If the team improves and Honda for argument sake sign Alonso for the team, it would be his perfect oppertunity to prove what could have been.

  12. Well… I have never followed Jenson’s career with much enthusiasm as he always seemed to come across as another one of those drivers that the Brit media was hyping about… you give the Brit media one Brit driver abut to make into F1 and they start rebranding him as the next world champ… it was the same in cricket… they spent an entire decade labelling every upcoming cricketer as the next Ian Botham… until the whole game broke its back under the weight of those expectations… it seems to be the same case with Jenson… the whole Brit F1 scenario might not break its back under the weight of this (lewis didn’t have to start off his career with super aguri thankfully) … but it did break Jenson’s back… Although… this does bring one question to my mind… Would Lewis have been as highly rated if he had come into F1 driving a super aguri and having had Anthony Davidson or Takuma Sato for a team mate instead of Fernando… the inputs coming in from whatever race runs were done and not from the experience of Pedro? Maybe… I know he wasn’t born with a silver spoon… but he did get into F1 with a silver car…

    Now let the mud fly!!!

  13. You give the Brit media one Brit driver abut to make into F1 and they start rebranding him as the next world champ

    I don’t remember them doing that with Anthony Davidson or Ralph Firman or Justin Wilson.

    My point is, they may be more discerning about who they hype than you think. Perhaps Button is champion material, he just hasn’t had the car.

  14. Definitely overrated. Until Lewis arrived he was the great british hope but nothing since then. Thank goodness my race afternoons are no longer filled with a blow by blow description of jenson’s race at the back of the field. I have nothing against jenson, he must be good to have made it into F1 but is he a champion? I dont think so.

  15. I disagree with Melanie’s point that he had the second best car on the grid in 2004. In truth, the second best car belonged to Rubens Barrichello and Button would have had to have been superhuman or at least extremely fortunate to have beaten both Schumacher and his faithful rear gunner; the best he could have hoped for was a 2nd place that year.
    I rate Button and agree with Keith that he’s not had the right car. But then again, when will he ever get that car? 2008 has been written off, Brawn is now talking down 2009; so that leaves 2010-11.

  16. You cannot really compare Jenson with Lewis.
    Lewis started in F1 with a car that could win a race. If he had not won a race then where would he be now? I’ve run back and checked results for Jenson for his earlier F1 years and he’s never been in a car that you would say was the fastest or best car on the grid. I guess the best he’s been in would be the equivalent on Robert Kubica in the BMW this season when he had the BAR in 2004.
    Going through the results it was quite clear that he was a bit "out of depth" in the Williams. Probably due to the sudden leap into F1 and the pressure from the British Press. But, given the car he had and it’s reliability he had far fewer racing laps under his belt by the end of the season than Lewis did.
    Moving on a few seasons it was clear that he did have speed and a plethora of mechanical failures seem to pop up over his results. I wonder what would have happened if these were less? He does however show skill in wet \ slippery conditions. This smooth driving style should be kinder to the car and makes the many mechanical retirements all more frustrating for him.
    In the end compared with Trulli \ Ralf \ Fisichella \ Villeneuve \Sato \ Barichello, if I was a F1 manager I’d pick Jenson. He can race well and race smooth. Maybe a bit more qualifying pace would be better, but I think that requires a "Grab it by the horns" method that he just doesn’t do.
    I’d really like to see him in a Ferrari \ McLaren etc… that’s the same for many drivers out there. You have to take what you can get and use it to the best you can.
    Another plus is that he has yet to say "For Sure" in an interview :D. I should have run a sweepstake on how many times I heard that this last race weekend.
    Oh and I’d also get him to take a shave…

  17. Oh and I’d also get him to take a shave…

    Agreed – that’s why I used a picture of him with his helmet on!

  18. "I don’t remember them doing that with Anthony Davidson or Ralph Firman or Justin Wilson."

    The reason Jenson and Lewis were hyped and not the three above was because they started in good cars right away – and thus had good results right away.
    That’s the only discernment the press does, the way I see it.  Good results = champion driver.  But as we know, it isn’t always that straightforward.

  19. Jenson is one of my favourites drivers, and i use to defend him in all the arguments about F1 with my friends.

    But i trully think that he’s a god driver in a crap car. He had his moment with Honda, but engines used to end in a BBQ, and the secret tank affair was the final strike to the team.

    Last season in China, we could watch how in a wet race, where driver is more important than car, he did it really well.

    Anyway, he is so much better than a lot of nº2 drivers (such as Massa, Piquet, Heiki), and he is not so good as the nº1 drivers. So Ferrari, Mclaren and Renault could have a better team performance including Jenson as nº2 driver.

  20. Well, I think we can talk here all we want, the professionals in the business have decided that he isn’t a top driver, otherwise he would be driving for one of the top teams. There is nothing going against him from outside influences, being British and therefore from a market with strong sponsorship interest is a big plus for him.
    An yet he still doesn’t get picked. I think it’s a combination of his major contract cock-up with Williams, but this would’ve worn off already if he would be a very good driver and him just being above average at best. He clearly isn’t a top driver as the results show. He has rarely managed to convincingly outshine his teammate and struggling against Rubens is also not really a ticket to glory…

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