For the first few races of the year it seemed as though Jenson Button was running to the same form we’d seen in 2010: qualifying and finishing slightly behind his team mate.
But it quickly became apparent the balance of power had shifted at McLaren. Over the course of the season the pair were evenly matched in terms of who was ahead, but it was overwhelmingly Button, not Lewis Hamilton, who brought home the best results.
At season’s end his tally of podium finishes stood at 12 to Hamilton’s six, and Button had become the first of Hamilton’s team mates to beat him over a full season of F1 (although Fernando Alonso came very close in 2007).
The keys to Button’s advantage were twofold: first, he lacked Hamilton’s propensity for sticking his car in the scenery (or, more often, Felipe Massa).
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/19|
|Beat team mate in race||7/14|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||445/975|
Second – and most importantly – he was usually able to get better performance out of his tyres. This was not often the case in qualifying, where Hamilton exerted his usual advantage, but regularly so in the races.
This was first apparent in Malaysia, where Button finished second after making one pit stop fewer than Hamilton. This tended to give Button a handy advantage in the races, though not always. In Turkey his tyres went off towards the end of his final stint and he was passed by Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
As we saw last year, Button seems to have a sixth sense in mixed weather conditions and he was in stunning form in Canada and Hungary. His furious pace in drying conditions at Montreal allowed him to take a shock win after pressuring Sebastian Vettel into a mistake on the final lap. This came after he’d fallen to the back of the field due to an earlier penalty.
In Hungary it was a straight fight between the McLaren team mates and it was Hamilton who cracked, spinning away his advantage and compounding his mistake with a late switch to intermediate tyres which the canny Button avoided.
By the second half of the season Button decisively had the upper hand. Without consecutive retirements at Silverstone and the Nurburgring due to technical reasons, his advantage over Hamilton would have been even greater.
After that, he was on the podium at eight of the final nine rounds. That included a nip-and-tuck win over Alonso and Vettel at Suzuka.
Vettel’s retirement in Abu Dhabi might have offered the chance for another win had Button not spent the race wrestling with a KERS fault. Under the circumstances he did extraordinarily well to salvage third – Martin Whitmarsh called his drive “absolutely storming”.
Many people – myself included – doubted Button would be able to beat Hamilton at McLaren. He deserves full credit not just for his achievement this year, but for taking on a fellow world champion in the same team in the first place.
F1 Fanatics on Jenson Button
His best year by far. He is one of the most intelligent drivers in the field, and it became his biggest weapon this year, always knowing when to push, when to save the equipment, when to relinquish and when to attack. He won over Hamilton convincingly with two mechanical retirements to his team-mate?óÔé¼Ôäós none, and could have been a serious contender if the car was a bit faster.
Who expected him to beat Hamilton by almost two race wins’ worth of points? Exceptional race pace.
One of the best seasons by Button. In the second half of the season he almost beat Vettel in terms of points. If it wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót for the British and German Grands Prix then he would have been a lot closer.
Really stepped up this year. His previous weakness (his qualifying) has been much improved on, although still not perfect he more than made up for it with his determination, cunning, overtaking prowess and attention to detail.
No-one thought he?óÔé¼Ôäód beat Hamilton, but he did, and did it in style: His win at Canada is one of the best drives I?óÔé¼Ôäóve ever seen and I?óÔé¼Ôäóll remember it for a long, long time.
Able to capitalise on his team mate?óÔé¼Ôäós downturn in form with some epic drives this year. Canada surely has to be one of the best F1 drives of all time. Hungary and Japan were exceptional too. Unlucky not to add to those wins at Monaco.
2011 F1 season review
- The 2011 F1 season: The complete F1 Fanatic review
- Your 2011 F1 predictions revisited
- 2011 F1 statistics part 3: Stats and facts highlights
- 2011 F1 statistics part two: Vettel’s domination
- 2011 F1 statistics part one: car performance
- New 2011 rules produced best racing of last four years
- What F1 Fanatics really thought of the 2011 season
- Sebastian Vettel voted F1 Fanatic Driver of the Year
- F1 Fanatic’s article highlights of 2011
- Dominant Red Bull join F1’s top teams
Images ?é?® McLaren