Jenson Button: the driver debates

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

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55 comments on Jenson Button: the driver debates

  1. Chalky said on 29th April 2008, 12:50

    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…

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th April 2008, 12:55

    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!

  3. Journeyer said on 29th April 2008, 13:45

    "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.

  4. frecon said on 29th April 2008, 14:04

    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.

  5. Michael K said on 29th April 2008, 15:42

    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…

  6. Michael Counsell said on 29th April 2008, 15:44

    He’s one of the very best in the rain and pretty solid in the dry but he hasn’t handled his career well with Williams and Honda.  I suppose he’s been unlucky in the fact that when he was driving the second best car on the grid it was miles away from the best so no matter what he did he wasn’t going to win.

  7. Michael Counsell said on 29th April 2008, 15:47

    Michael K, Honda (BAR) have been a top team in the time he’s been there and at other times Mclaren, BMW (Sauber) and Renault haven’t been.

  8. Architrion said on 29th April 2008, 15:52

    I can only say that Fred crushed him with a Minardi when he was driving his Renault…. Then Fred took his place and the rest is history well known…. Being defeated by a last year no-evolution Minardi dog of a car,,,, well, IT MUST HURT.

  9. Michael K said on 29th April 2008, 16:01

    "Michael K, Honda (BAR) have been a top team in the time he’s been there and at other times Mclaren, BMW (Sauber) and Renault haven’t been."

    118 races, 2 poles, no victory. How is that a top team? And if it really would’ve been a top team, it would mean that Jenson and Jaques would’ve had to be absolute amateurs. Even I don’t think they were/are that bad.

  10. Sush said on 29th April 2008, 18:10

    Michael K, regarding the contract killing of his err contract, it would have worn off if he was a world champ.

    Not for someone like him, he’s probably been branded a petulant child by the F1 Deity’s such as Jean Todt, Flavio Brioche et al.

  11. M Smith said on 29th April 2008, 18:11

    In my opinion, Jenson has the pace and the racecraft to win races consistently. Maybe not win a world championship, but probably get a couple more victories than Massa would in a top-car.

    Button-gate I and II may still keep a few people from liking him, but after his first win, and wrestling that dog of a car into the points last season, I think most people will have forgotten it. But he’s on the verge of staying at Honda for another 3 years anyway, last year that may have been a bad choice, but with Honda’s staff overhaul, he may have made the right choice for once…

  12. Lady Snowcat said on 29th April 2008, 19:51

    Jense is a very good driver but probably not an all time great…

    Now do such drivers win WDCs…yes they do…if they are in the class car with a weaker team mate… (why do the later Williams WDCs come to mind?)….

    But Jense hasn’t been in that position…. the best car he had was almost the Williams of his first year… the Benetton was rubbish in the years he was with them and although Fisi (who had been with the team the previous year) beat him it was by 8 points to 2 (Alonso scored 0 in the Minardi) and in the second year he beat Trulli 14 to 9…

    But Flav already had Alonso lined up… or almost lined up as he actually tested in 2002 for Renault and as the team started to be strong in 2003 (Alonso 55 to Trulli’s 33 so a similar proportion to Jense/Trulli the previous year) Jense moved on to beat an ex WDC, JV, in his own team by 17 to 8 and then came 3rd in the WDC in 2004, scoring more than Alonso….

    So it was always a case of the nearly guy…. let’s hope Ross gives him a chance to prove his detractors wrong…. he deserves at least the shot Lewis got…. even if only once…

  13. hoshiyar said on 29th April 2008, 20:33

    i think button is an underacheiver.. he’s not been able to live up to his potential.. i beleive he’s relatively well paid at honda and may be he just lacked motivation during the last couple of seasons….as he has not been able to produce results that would put him into the limelight… i think it may just be too late for a resurgence in his career… however.. with lewis taking the "next brit world champ" away from him.. he might just wanna prove a point or two

  14. Uppili said on 29th April 2008, 20:46

    Jenson is a class driver in the mold of Damon Hill. Is he a senna or Schumacher? Probably not. Is he a WDC material though? Yes, he is. When someone like Frank Williams who knows more than many about WDC drivers says that Jenson has the talent to be WDC, i will take it blindly. No questions asked.

    Unfortunately for Jenson, one bad season and two disastrous contract decisions is all he took to bring himself down. Now, his only option is stay at Honda and hope Ross Brawn magic works for him.

    Keith, Jenson won on his 113 attempt, not 155.

  15. It’s easy to say that he is mediocre now, a year and half adrift from the last decent car he was given, which wasn’t quite good enough to let him win races, but when he had that car I remember his qualifying and racing being really great.

    What would people say about Kubica if he BMW spend the next fea years at the wrong end of the grid? I bet we wouldn’t be saying he was a potential champion either.

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