2011 F1 driver rankings no.3: Jenson Button

2011 F1 season review

Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2011

Celebrating his third win of 2011 at Suzuka

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
Races finished 17/19
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.

Jenson Button, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2011

Button overcame Hamilton to win in Hungary

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.

He’s already reaping the awards for his efforts with a three-year McLaren contract extension announced in October.

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?s none, and could have been a serious contender if the car was a bit faster.
Guilherme

Who expected him to beat Hamilton by almost two race wins’ worth of points? Exceptional race pace.
Tflb1

Jenson Button, McLaren, Montreal, 2011

Button snatched victory on the last lap in Canada

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?t for the British and German Grands Prix then he would have been a lot closer.
Smifaye

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?d beat Hamilton, but he did, and did it in style: His win at Canada is one of the best drives I?ve ever seen and I?ll remember it for a long, long time.
Dan Thorn

Able to capitalise on his team mate?s 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.
Supernicebob

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107 comments on 2011 F1 driver rankings no.3: Jenson Button

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  1. Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 15th December 2011, 12:28

    Jenson was immense this year. Completely agree that I thought Hamilton was going to blown him away when he joined McLaren, but we’ve witnessed a SSJ-esque transformation from Button this year.

    • Vettel, Alonso and Button were incredible this year. I expected it from Vettel, not as much from Alonso and definitely not by Button. Not by this margin.

    • rpiian (@rpiian) said on 15th December 2011, 16:37

      2 hours of waiting for the Canadian GP rewarded me with one of the greatest races in F1 history. The edge of your seat – nail biting – mind warping feats performed by almost all the finishing drivers made it one to remember.

      Jenson Button alone made the race exciting, all the other drivers were icing on the cake. The fight between Schumi, Button and Webber was absolutely thrilling.

      The one dry line, accompanied by overtaking, on supersofts, through puddles, made for one heck of spectacle.

      • TED BELL said on 15th December 2011, 17:31

        History will reflect on the career of Jensen Button and will read that he paid his dues and when the time came he capitalized on the opportunity and became world champion, after which his best days of racing were realized by the sum of his efforts. A long career that continued to grow and set him apart from others who came before him. Perhaps the best driver of the last ten years.

    • Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 15th December 2011, 19:37

      SSJ-esque?

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 17th December 2011, 22:15

      @magnificient-geoffrey, more of the same from me as well. I did think he might spring a supprise, but he has only improved since 2009 and has become a really complete and even exiting driver.

  2. akshay.it (@akshay-it) said on 15th December 2011, 12:32

    If Jenson repeats the performance next year, serious trouble for Hamilton..

    Hoping that Mclaren will give a competitive car to both the drivers in 2012..

    • OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 15th December 2011, 13:13

      and serious thought would be to start thinking on a second driver who could replace him… Kimi was world champion in 2007 and then got sacked for his “lack of motivation” (I personally disagree with that over-used reason) but Hamilton could be seen as a bad invesment if he doesn’t sink his problems and starts driving as he really should

      • ^^ I think it’s a bit early to talk about replacing Lewis.

        Button beat him, but he’s had some massive drives as well.

        • As of now, Lewis’s contract is up for negotiation. In F1, as in life, it is not a done deal even if you’ve a signed contract. A contract is just money, ask Kimi as he was shown the door out of Ferrari with 1 year still to go and so were many others.

  3. gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 15th December 2011, 12:33

    A little bit surprised, as i was one of those who think he’d get 2nd spot.

    I think he raised his game seriously this year: strong starts, clinical text-book overtakes and mighty finishes.
    Finally got that win in the dry.
    Dominated LH himself this year, and statistically over the course of the 2 years as well.

    But there’s a weakness to be found still: that quali-stats is a bit mediocre. If he could up that as well and beat LH 40% of the time, not 30, he’d be more or less the complete package.

    Funny, but it seems like JB is getting better and better with age, whereas LH is stagnating at the very best…

    • Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 15th December 2011, 16:21

      @gwenouille I think this assessment is spot-on (though I’m a little more willing to overlook his slower qualifying). Kinda makes you wonder how many years are ahead of Jenson in F1.

    • Funny, but it seems like JB is getting better and better with age, whereas LH is stagnating at the very best…

      Maybe, but then he has always been very, very good, its just some people have under rated him (allot).

      Ever since he arrived in F1, I though he was going to be up there, but then feared his management would make him a ‘could of been talent’ thankfully that wasn’t the case.

  4. PJ (@pjtierney) said on 15th December 2011, 12:38

    He was second on my list (Alonso P3) but given how average the Ferrari was this year I amazed Fernando’s put it where he did in some races.

  5. bananarama (@bananarama) said on 15th December 2011, 12:44

    I absolutely agree on the top3 this year. I am really happy to see Jenson ahead of Hamilton because frankly, Button supporters had quite a tough time and were ridiculed when saying he could match Hamilton. But I always believed in him and here we are! The only thing he should really improve is qualifying, his driving appears to be perfect for someone who starts from the front and then “cruises” to the finish. I guess we’ll never see him improve that much but that was pretty much his only weakness this year.

    Afterall I would have probably put him and Alonso in second place together but then again, Alonso was pretty impressive on almost all weekends except the first few races.

  6. John H (@john-h) said on 15th December 2011, 12:44

    Button is the master of tyre conservation and being pretty quick. He must be loving these regulations!

    Vettel and Button are both very smooth, and its shown. I actually think Hamilton as adapted not too bad when you compare his results to Webber for example, but I fear with these tyre regs Button will continue 2012 where he left off.

    Do I like that kind of F1? no. Do I admire Jenson any less because of these regs? No again. He’s been awesome this year.

  7. nackavich (@nackavich) said on 15th December 2011, 12:52

    He’s a classy driver. Also a classy guy. Reminds me of a more gentleman racer. Watching him fight it out in close proximity to other drivers (Hamilton in Turkey, Webber in Abu Dhabi) he still always seems so darn classy(!)

  8. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 15th December 2011, 12:58

    As much as your articles are brilliant, balanced and factual! I can’t help but notice a lot of little digs at Hamilton recently! Meant in the most respectful of ways of course Keith!

    • ECWDanSelby (@ecwdanselby) said on 15th December 2011, 13:18

      Thing is, whether you’re a Hamilton fan or not, he’s had a disappointing season on both accounts.

      I’m not sure they’re so much ‘digs’ as they are reminders that he heavily undershot expectations this year.

      • Mopatop (@mopatop) said on 15th December 2011, 16:20

        I feel the need to comment that I wouldn’t say Hamilton has undershot my expectations. I expect Hamilton to be entertaining, to make bold moves and, occasionally, for it not to pay off.

        Let’s not forget that Hamilton threw away a championship last year on stupid moves that ended in non-finishes on at least two occasions. Remember when he was running third behind Massa at Monza, stuffed it up the inside and came away without a track rod? We were screaming at Hamilton not to do it before he even started – because we expect it of him.

        The adjective I would use for Hamilton this year would be controversial, because this year he’s often caused others to pay for his mistakes.

        • Tom (@newdecade) said on 15th December 2011, 17:14

          But then so did everyone last year – Alonso in spa, webber in valencia/korea, even Vettel could have lost it for himself with stupid moves as in spa. Remember Lewis lost 18 points in spain and was only 17 behind at the end of the year, plus was harpooned by webber in oz.

          Button however played it safe and almost never put a foot wrong – but he was first out of the fight!

          But yes I agree totally that I want to see drivers fighting, as a lewis fan I have learnt to enjoy the highs and suffer the lows!

      • JustOnePint said on 15th December 2011, 19:12

        he’s had a disappointing season

        Yes, highly disappointing. Each time Dumbo finished in the points was a huge disappointment, and the occasional win simply unbearable. And still never a black flag!.

        Many people want Felipe Massa out of F1, but for me he has richly earned his keep this year, by maintaining Dumbo far from the podium so many times.

  9. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 15th December 2011, 13:06

    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).

    I feel the situation at McLaren is best expressed in the form of a limerick:

    There once was a driver named Hamilton
    Who enjoyed being the favourite son
    But he would occasionally stray
    Into Felipe
    And so it was Button who won

    • Or, more likely:

      “There was a young man in a red car,
      Who considered himself a fixed star,
      In his own mind he was perfect
      And all watching did genuflect,
      So that rivals were seen from afar.”

      Even if they beat him.

    • Now I’m getting into it:

      “Another man drove a red car too.
      But he was given to misconstrue
      His role in the team,
      For whatever it might seem
      ‘Fernando is faster than you'”

  10. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 15th December 2011, 13:08

    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).

    So funny! besides that, and even as a Vettel fun, I really liked the final events in Canada where he drove aggressively legal to break Vettel’s concentration. He was my 2nd choice on this ranking but much accurately I’d say he and Fernando both matched good driving, effort and drive over their respective teammates. They’er just even IMHO

  11. timtoo (@timtoo) said on 15th December 2011, 13:21

    Button really is one of those drivers who knows how to play the game, he can keep cool at the start of races, when often we have seen a few cars in front of him pull out a gap, he thinks of the long run, of all 50+ laps and the best way to cross the finish line on the last lap, rather than racing for the lead on the first.

    I am a massive Button fan (don’t mention what shampoo or Bank Account I have switched to this year – my girlfriend thinks she has competition!) and I have to say that even when I have almost been shouting at the TV this year saying ‘come on, close the gap’ he has taken things steady. He may not be the most exciting driver on the grid, but he is certainly the most smart. How quickly did he get past MSC at Monza, he saw the opportunity and knew he had to take it, he is contently thinking of all the scenarios that could happen in a race, sometimes it seems he may pace himself too often, but I think everyone this year is starting to realise that his stratergy is actually proving to be perhaps the best for consistency for securing his next WDC.

    I was also thinking, how come he is not 2nd or maybe even 1st, but he may have beaten his teammate, but Hamilton was not that far behind compared to Massa and Webber

    my dream team would be Button and Vettel at the moment – extremely high levels of consistency from them both. Alonso is a real fighter but perhaps is someone who may burn out his tires that Button.

    • JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 15th December 2011, 16:21

      I couldn’t agree any more, you’ve said it all. I’m exactly the same as you (even with the shampoo as well, not so much the bank account as I couldn’t be bothered), but I too am a massive JB fan and he utterly deserves every ounce of respect he has gained from such a brilliant season.

      To be honest, I don’t think he was that far behind Hamilton last year (if you don’t count the DNFs that were not his fault), and this year he has stepped it up even more and proven to everyone what I believed was possible from the beginning.

      I’m a little surprised that Jenson wasn’t second, but Keith might just be able to convince me of Alonso being a more deserving, but only very slightly…

      Also, does anyone know when Jenson last had a DNF that was his fault? The last one I remember was Nurburgring 2007…

  12. LexBlair (@lexblair) said on 15th December 2011, 13:29

    Ham 5th, But 3rd ? in 2011???? i have my fair share of problems with both placements……I was naive enough to believe that this was gonna be a 2011 ranking…….

  13. A great season by Button I ranked him second in my personal list but it was close between him and Alonso.

    Like Vettel after he won the title Button seemed to go onto another level and he is getting better every year at the moment.

    Although he had the beating of Hamilton this year I still think it was more down to Hamilton underperforming and making too many stupid mistakes rather than Button improving that much.

  14. magon4 (@magon4) said on 15th December 2011, 13:51

    Button 3rd, Alonso 2nd, Vettel 1st – this part I agree 100% with Keith, and I also think it is the easiest part of the ranking.
    Don’t let Buttons great performance this year think he was really better than Alonso, because he will never be. Button used his skills to full potential, but his limits appear earlier than Alonso’s, who took a quite inferior car to pretty similar results this year!
    Still great job Button. Hamilton is the better driver, though, and it will show again next year.

    • JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 15th December 2011, 16:26

      I don’t understand where this theory of Hamilton being better than Jenson has come from. Yes LH is a fast driver, and has proven that he can beat JB in qualifying numerous times, but even in 2010, Jenson wasn’t that far behind Lewis, especially if you count the two DNFs that Jenson got, that weren’t actually his fault. This year, Jenson was the better driver by quite a margin, and I very much doubt that with more input from his side that Hamilton will have it easy, nor do I think he is the better driver, as to be a better driver you have to be a complete driver, which is what the top 3 have all shown this year.

    • The flaw in this argument is that it presumes driver rankings are based on some indefinable ‘natural ability’, rather than actual achievement.

      You say that Button ‘will never’ be better than Alonso. Does that mean if Button wins the title and Alonso comes nowhere (as in 2009) Alsonso is still ‘better’ in that year?

      My problem with Button at no.3 and (presumably) Alonso at no.2 is that it buys into the ideas that the latter is more ‘naturally’ gifted and deserves to come ahead regardless of what they both atually achieve on track. Alonso gets to no. 2 with a single win, whereas Button is no 3 with 3 wins, but is somehow seen as ‘less successful’. Hamilton need 3 wins and a pole to get to no.5; with only 1 win, he’d presumably be lower still.

      How many races should Button have won to merit no. 2, I wonder?

      • Alehud42 (@alehud42) said on 15th December 2011, 19:00

        Alonso has 2nd because he moved a relatively awful car into consistent podiums.

        • gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 15th December 2011, 19:30

          But then, how do we know that the car is awful ???

          I mean everyone reckons it is the 3rd car on the grid.
          With FMassa being very slow and Mark Webber either slow or KERS-disabled or giving 6 places at the start, statistically he is bound to get some podiums, isn’t he ?

          And the Silverstone win was also due to a RBR error wasn’t it ?

          I’m playing devil’s advocate there, cause i am convinced he is top-three stuff anyway…

          • Alehud42 (@alehud42) said on 15th December 2011, 19:39

            Relative to RB and McLaren, the 150o Italia was a poor car.
            I think Alonso put in a better season-long performance than Button. Silverstone, Nurburgring, Susuka and Monaco were brilliant.

  15. Dobin1000 (@dobin1000) said on 15th December 2011, 13:53

    I would have probably ranked Button 2nd ahead of Alonso, primarily because of their respective finishing positions in the championship and the fact that Alonso barely had a team mate worthy of the name to challenge him.

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