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.

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

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.

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.

Jenson Button 2011 form guide

2011 F1 season review

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

  1. He’s probably been better this season than he was behind the wheel of the Brawn in 2009.

  2. Im delighted JB has outperformed Lewis this season. I never doubted he could, and frankly after years of abuse (ok not abuse, i cant think of a better word) from people who jumped onto the Lewis Hamilton Fan Bandwagon during 2007, its nice for him too show what he can do and beat lewis convincingly :)

  3. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 16th December 2011, 14:27

    Button just made everyone’s jaw to drop in Canada. His performance in some of the races were just epic. If he didn’t had those two retirements in Germany & Britain ( not of his own fault) he could have had delayed Vettel’s WC celebration by one more race.

  4. Butch27 (@butch27) said on 16th December 2011, 17:33

    Fantastic driver, always getting better and better!

  5. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 16th December 2011, 21:10

    Personally I would have put Button 2nd but I do think the summary of his season is really good.

    It’s close between him and Alonso. Alonso had the harder job, dealing with the F150 (sorry, Ford) and he managed to bring the car home as best he could. However, on pure race craft Button steals it for me. Canada was sublime. I love the ‘professor’ approach to the sport, there’s beauty in the subtlety. Agression has it perks too, but I prefer the other approach.

    I guess many expect that once Hamilton is on form, Button won’t be seen for dust but I don’t believe that. I expect that Button will go into 2012 feeling on top of the world and Hamilton will really have to re-think his politics on the tarmac as a result of his season.

    A pleasure to watch this year, thanks Jenson.

  6. Mango carrot said on 22nd December 2011, 1:41

    Button can only beat a confused and weakened Hamilton. He will never beat Hamilton at even 90%. Only Hamilton’s mistakes caused Button to get in front in 2011, and even then Button was never going to Challenge Vettel for the Championship like what Hamilton was doing until that team cock up in Monaco where it all went downhill from there.

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 23rd December 2011, 5:45

      Well Hamilton shouldn’t be making mistakes or allowing himself to be weakened then.

      Hamilton wasn’t challenging Vettel for the championship either before Monaco, where he failed to go out and set a time before the red flag, cut a chicane later on in the session and had multiple collisions in the race.

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