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

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