Born: 19th January 1980
Birthplace: Frome, United Kingdom
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Backed by father (and former rallycross racer) John, Jenson Button charted a rapid rise through the ranks of karting, beginning with a flawless performance in the 1991 British Cadet Karting Championship in which he won all 34 races.
Further karting successes followed: he was British Open Karting Champion on three occasions and later became the youngest ever winner of the European Super A category. He also won the Ayrton Senna Memorial Cup in 1997.
The following year he made the step from karts to cars at the age of 18. He won the British Formula Ford championship with nine wins for Haywood racing and also triumphed in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival ahead of Dan Wheldon and Nicolas Kiesa. He also raced Formula Fords in Europe and finished second in the European championship.
After such a successful transition to racing cars he won the 1998 McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award.
At 19 he entered the British Formula Three championship with Promatecme and won three, finishing the year as the top rookie, third overall behind Marc Hynes and Luciano Burti.
He finished fifth in the F3 Masters at Zandvoort, but fared better at the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix. He chased reigning Japanese Formula Three champion to the flag, finishing just 0.035s behind the winner.
Then a rare opportunity presented itself at one of Britain’s most famous racing teams – Williams, where incumbent racer Alessandro Zanardi had cut short his two-year contract after an unsuccessful season.
Frank Williams elected to promote either Button or Formula 3000 racer Bruno Junquiera to the race team. After comparing both in a ‘shoot-out’ test, Williams chose Button.
The media quickly picked up upon Button’s popularity and he largely impressed in his debut season. Despite qualifying only 21st for his first race after a series of car problems and bad luck he drove a composed first race. Then he picked up a point in his second outing, becoming the youngest ever points-scorer.
Despite further impressive performances at Hockenheim and Spa-Francorchamps he could do nothing to hang on to his Williams seat, which was destined for Juan Pablo Montoya.
Button moved to Benetton for 2001, but with the team in transition to Renault he struggled against long-term driver Giancarlo Fisichella. All he had to show for the season was a single points finish at the Hockenheimring.
But with Renault taking over the team Button could look forward to a more competitive 2002.
Jarno Trulli arrived in Fisichella’s place for 2002 and he and Button proved quite closely matched. Button was on target for a podium finish in the second round at Sepang until a tie-rod broke in his suspension, slowing him down and letting Michael Schumacher by for third on the final lap.
When the car was reliable Button usually brought it home in the points, allowing him to beat Trulli to seventh at the end of the season. But team boss Flavio Briatore promoted Fernando Alonso (whom Briatore managed) in Button’s place for 2003.
Fortunately Button found a strong supporter in BAR’s David Richards, and he showed well alongside Jacques Villeneuve, whom Richards dropped at the end of the year.
In 2004 Button became a regular visitor to the podium. The team were the closest thing Ferrari had to rivals.
A row over Button’s contract developed as he tried – and failed – to make a return to Williams.
Incredibly the same dispute happened in reverse in 2005 as he tried to extricate himself from a Williams contract after Honda bought out BAR. The season was more or less a write-off after the team were banned for two races after the stewards discovered an illegal reserve fuel tank in the car at Imola.
Button’s reward came the following year at Hungary. After a difficult season where the team (now taken over by Honda) had failed to deliver on their strong off-season promise, Button put in a cool performance to win from 14th in slippery conditions.
The team ended the year on a high, Button scoring more points than any other driver in the final six rounds
But the next season was a disaster. The Shuhei Nakamoto-designed RA107 was shockingly uncompetitive, the team even languishing behind Super Aguri (who used the 2006 Honda chassis) in the opening rounds.
Button carved out a meagre six points that year, mainly thanks to a strong fifth in the rain at Shanghai. This was at least better than team mate Rubens Barrichello, who failed to score at all.
Somehow it got even worse the following year. The latest Honda proved well off the pace again, and this time Barrichello had the beating of him. All year long the team’s focus had been on readying itself for the 2009 season – but at the beginning of December Honda announced it was quitting the sport, and Button was left wondering if he’d ever get back into an F1 car.
Honda’s policy of sacrificing their 2008 campaign to work on the 2009 campaign would have paid off if they’d stayed around to see it happen. Instead they put the team up for sale at the end of 2008 and Ross Brawn took over the running of the outfit.
Button stayed on board and was rewarded for his loyalty. The new car – now dubbed the BGP 001 and Mercedes-powered – was a sensation from the moment it first turned a wheel in practice. Button won from pole position at the opening round of 2009 in Melbourne and added five more wins over the next six races.
Things started to go wrong for Button at his home race, where he struggled to qualifying among the leaders. But he continued to deliver the goods on race day and consistent points-scoring meant none of his three major rivals were able to keep him from the title.
He won the championship at Brazil with a race to spare. It was a drive worthy of a champion – Button started 14th after a rain-hit qualifying session but raced to fifth, passing several rivals on the way despite needing to exercise caution to defend his championship lead.
After the jubilant scenes at Interlagos there came a surprising announcement: Button revealed he was leaving the team, which had been taken over by Mercedes, and moving to McLaren. There he joined the driver he’d succeeded as champion – Lewis Hamilton.
To the surprise of many, Button held the upper hand early on in 2010. A pair of opportunistic wins in wet races in Melbourne and Shanghai put him in the lead of the drivers’ championship.
But over the balance of the season Hamilton’s edge on raw pace told and he was usually up the road from Button.
At times Button’s strategic gambles paid dividends, particularly in Monza where a gamble on strategy brought him within touching distance of another win.
Qualifying remained a weakness, however, and after struggling in the rain in Korea he dropped out of contention for the championship.
Formula 1’s change of tyre supplier to Pirelli, and the accompanying demand for less durable and more challenging rubber to improve the quality of racing, played into Button’s hands in 2011.
More so than Hamilton, Button came to understand how to get the best out of the new tyres for longer. That much was clear as early as the second race in Malaysia, where Button was able to make one fewer pit stop than Hamilton and finish in front of him.
He scored a remarkable win in Canada thanks to his skill in mixed weather conditions. Despite an early collision with Hamilton, a puncture following contact with Alonso, and a penalty, Button bounced back to reel in Sebastian Vettel as the race drew to a close. On the final lap, as the McLaren got within range of the Red Bull, Vettel slithered wide and Button stole victory.
He won again in Hungary in another race of mixed conditions, which he read better than Hamilton. A third win came in Japan, this time a straight fight between Button, Vettel and Alonso – the three outstanding talents of the year.
The MP4-26 may not have been a championship contender, but Button ended the year runner-up to Vettel and comfortably ahead of Hamilton.
Button’s third year at McLaren was a mixed affair which saw three wins but also a dismal patch early in the season when he struggled with the latest generation of the tyres and was well off the pace.
That ended any realistic chances of a further championship win early on, but he followed up his victory in the opening race of the season with wins at Spa and at the final round in Brazil.
Button’s hopes of a competitive showing in his fourth year with McLaren were dashed early in the season. The MP4/28 was nowhere near as competitive as its predecessor, and he and new team mate Sergio Perez failed to score a podium finish all year long.
There were several occasions when Button extracted the best the car had to offer, but that rarely amount to a finish in the top half of the points places. His best result was fourth at the season finale in Brazil.
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