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Biography

SEASON INFORMATION
15/08/2013

 

Biography

 

Jenson Button burst on to the Formula One scene at the start of the 2000 season, making his debut with Williams.

Frank Williams was heavily criticised for his decision to sign a relatively inexperienced 20-year-old to partner Ralf Schumacher, but Jenson soon silenced his critics with his performances on the track.

When Jenson scored a point in only his second race great things were expected from the young Englishman, and for much of that first season he delivered.

A string of strong drives saw him collect 12 points during his first year in the sport, while an impressive qualifying performance at Spa saw him line up ahead of hero Michael Schumacher on the grid for the Belgian GP.

Although Jenson had impressed team boss Frank Williams with his maturity, feedback and speed throughout the season, the team was already committed to providing Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya with a 2001 race seat, and as a result Button was 'loaned' to Benetton for two seasons.

His lack of experience meant he struggled to get to grips with the car during his second season, and while the B200 was far from easy to drive, Jenson failed to match the pace of team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, ending the year with just two points to his name.

For 2002 Jenson stayed with Benetton, now re-named Renault following the French manufacturer's purchase of the Anglo/Italian team. With Fisichella moving to Jordan, Jenson was joined by another highly successful former-karter Jarno Trulli.

Things got off to a difficult start for Jenson when he was 'taken out' at the first corner of the Australian GP though two weeks later he almost finished on the podium only to be passed by Michael Schumacher on the last lap when his suspension failed.

In Brazil Jenson was 'mixing it' with the McLarens but after that Renault seemed to lose its edge and began to slip further down the field. Button continued to score points, but like team-mate Trulli it was mostly the crumbs from the table when one of the 'big three' teams failed to get both its cars home.

When Renault announced that it was not going to re-sign Button for '03 instead opting for former Minardi hot-shot Fernando Alonso, there were raised eyebrows along the pitlane. In the weeks that followed there was wild speculation as to where the youngster was heading until finally David Richards moved in and snapped him up for BAR.

Admittedly Jenson 'lost the plot' in 2002, but right from the outset in 2003 we had the highly motivated charger who'd thrilled us in 2000 with Williams.

The signing of Button to BAR clearly riled Jacques Villeneuve who had already seen his friend and mentor Craig Pollock dumped by the Brackley outfit in favour of Richards.

Villeneuve used the media to launch a war of words with Button, which thankfully, for the large part, the Englishman ignored. The Canadian claimed that Jenson had yet to prove himself and indeed compared the youngster to a 'boy band', style over substance.

Yet prove himself Button did, scoring all but six of BAR's points in 2003. They were pretty evenly matched in qualifying, but in the races - despite Villeneuve's unusually high number of retirements due to technical problems - it was the youngster that had the edge.

At season's end Button found himself leading both the American and Japanese events, seemingly destined for his first F1 podium, but it was not to be.

Looking ahead to 2004, the question on everyone's lips was; 'can he deliver?'

They were referring to the fact that in the wake of Villeneuve's departure, Jenson now assumed the role of team leader.

True, he had given some strong performance in 2003, but he had yet to record his first F1 podium, was this really the man to lead an F1 team?

The answer was a resounding yes.

From the outset, even though it was clear that the Ferrari's were untouchable, BAR clearly had a great car, a fine engine, and in Button, a real team leader.

In Malaysia, the second race of the season he dealt with the first of the mental barriers, finally taking a place on the podium. Two weeks later he was back on the podium again, this time one step higher. By the end of the season, Jenson had visited the podium ten times, though never quite making it to the top step.

His best opportunity to win came at Monza, but then the Ferraris decided to show what they could really do. However, his finest performance came at Hockenheim, where, despite starting from 13th on the grid as a result of an engine failure in qualifying he worked his way up to second, giving some fine lessons in how to overtake, and proving that it can still be done.

Sadly, Jenson's season was marred, and his image somewhat tarnished, by the failed move to WillliamsF1, an issue that dominated much of the summer. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the episode, it is to his credit that the behind-the-scenes goings on never affected his performance and he continued to give 100%.

Having made those first trips to the podium, and finished third in the drivers' championship, albeit 63 points shy of Michael Schumacher, the big question heading into 2005 was could Jenson pick up where he left off in 2004?

From the outset, it was clear that it wasn't going to be an easy year for BAR, and indeed Button, however, nobody could have predicted how bad it was going to be.

Aside from the fuel tank saga, which got his team disqualified from one race, and suspended from a further two, there was the BAR 007's, poor aero package, which resulted in woeful lack of grip. By the end of the season, the Honda was probably the most powerful engine out there, but the BAR couldn't handle it.

However, Jenson Button had his own problems, and for the second year running was involved in a high profile, and somewhat ugly, contract battle. Trouble is, this time instead of trying to get out of a contract with BAR and move to WilliamsF1, he was attempting to wriggle out of a contract with WilliamsF1 and remain with BAR. Confused? Everyone was.

In all honesty, there must have been times when even Jenson must have wondered whether it was all hype. There were occasions when he was outstanding, however, there were many more when he was simply average. Furthermore, he could no longer fall back on the 'youngster' excuse.

There was no doubting his raw pace, however, one could not help but feel that Jenson was carrying just a little too much 'baggage'. At Imola he surrendered far too easily to Michael Schumacher, while in Canada he crashed out following a needless error.

There were some very good performances, but on the whole, and despite the limitations of the BAR, Jenson was a shadow of the driver we saw in 2004.

After 100 Grands Prix, it was clear that many of those who previously championed him were beginning to lose patience, even his adoring faithful in the British press.

We can forgive him for the usual pre-season "this is my year" bull, for this had become de rigeur for drivers and teams. For 2006 however, Jenson was to be partnered by another man with much to prove, Michael Schumacher's former sidekick at Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello.

After a promising start to the season, including a second in Malaysia and pole at Melbourne, Honda began to lose its way, and this had a knock-on effect on Jenson. Despite his best efforts, it wasn't happening, and with every race, and the failure to score that 'magical' first win, the media grew more impatient.

Rock bottom came at Silverstone, when, in front of his adoring public, 'Jense' qualified nineteenth, the result of poor grip and a (random) trip to the weighbridge. We say rock bottom, but three races later, at Magny Cours, the Honda driver started from nineteenth on the grid yet again.

As further proof of Jenson's apparent fall from grace, the British media was now focussing on another youngster, Lewis Hamilton, who was making a major impression in F1. Tired of predicting when Button would score his maiden win - one hundred and ten races and counting - the media was now speculating on when Hamilton would make his F1 debut and with whom.

Then came Hungary.

We have described Jenson's win at the Hungaroring as fortuitous but that is not entirely fair. Yes, the weather turned the race into a lottery, much like the Nurburgring in 1999 when another British driver (Johnny Herbert) took a famous yet lucky win. However, the reality is that in both cases the driver had to be there to win, he'd survived where others hadn't.

The win in Hungary was not only a turning point for Jenson, it was a watershed for the entire Honda team. Weeks earlier, the Englishman had tried to motivate the team, visiting the Brackley HQ at a time when sprits were flagging. Post-Hungary we saw a new Honda and a new Button.

In the final five races of 2006 Jenson scored 25 points, more than he scored in the opening twelve races of the season. The monkey had been well and truly shaken from the Englishman's back, and with 56 points he finished sixth in the Drivers' Championship, 20 points ahead of his teammate.

Following the impressive run-in to the 2006 season, much was expected in 2007. However, it was clear even in pre-season testing that all was not well, with Jenson overheard describing the RA107 as a "piece of shit". Sadly, he was right and things didn't improve.

Ironically, while his former team (Williams) showed signs of serious progress, Honda was all over the place, in every sense, and it wasn't until the French GP, round eight, that the Englishman scored his first point of the season, adding one more in Italy and a further four in China.

At his home race, his team's guests, David and Victoria Beckham, were more eager to meet Lewis Hamilton, with Jenson's misery compounded by spinning off on the second lap. This was in addition to two other races where the hapless Englishman failed to complete the first lap.

Despite the fact that the car was a "piece of shit", Jenson continued to give 100%, and for that he deserves full credit. Not for nothing did he make it into the Autocourse Top Ten.

Remaining with Honda for 2008, Jenson must have been hoping that 2007 was merely a blip and that he and the Brackley outfit might be able to pick up where they left off in 2006. He was in for a nasty surprise.

In pre-season testing the RA108 was worryingly off the pace and it was only a major aero upgrade for Melbourne that saved the team's blushes. That said, the Englishman was eliminated in a first lap incident.

While the basic car was sound, the aero was not and the engine was now one of the least powerful on the grid. It was soon clear that little progress would be made and therefore the team - now under the guidance of Ross Brawn - opted to concentrate on its 2009 car.

Whereas in the past Jenson had risen to the occasion, for much of 2008 he was clearly unable to motivate himself, his frustration at another lost season all too apparent.

A sixth at Barcelona saw Jenson pick up his first, and only, points of the season, while in France he was the only driver to retire.

At season end, he could at least console himself in the knowledge that with Ross Brawn now on board and a host of new regulations which would mean greater initial parity in 2009, all was not lost. Then came Honda's shock announcement that it was to quit the sport.

It's probably fair to say that in January 2009, nobody, not even the man himself, would have put money on Jenson winning the title. Indeed, it looked very much as though the Englishman was out of a job, left to watch from the sidelines as he contemplated that one win in Hungary way back in 2006.

After three months of agonising, Jenson was finally informed that he would be on the grid in Melbourne, driving for Brawn GP, the Englishman who had won titles with both Benetton and Ferrari leading a management buy-out of the beleaguered Brackley outfit.

In pre-season testing, despite a question mark regarding the legality of its diffuser, the Brawn looked good, indeed, it looked very, very good, leading to claims that the Brackley team might pull off the shock of the century in Melbourne. Indeed, days before the season opener, Bernie Ecclestone was tipping Jenson as a dark horse for the title.

What followed is surely one of the true fairytales, not only of Formula One but sport in general, for Jenson and his team went on to secure both titles.

Yes, the Brawn did have an early season advantage courtesy of that diffuser, and Jenson made full use of it, putting together a string of 6 wins in the first 7 races. Indeed, by the time the season reached the mid-point the Englishman had a 23 point lead over his nearest rival, teammate Rubens Barrichello.

While some put the results almost entirely down to the car, others said that they had always been of the opinion that given the right equipment Jenson could prove himself to be the real deal. Ross Brawn, who had worked with one of the sport's true greats, Michael Schumacher, openly lauded the British driver, claiming he was the very best at getting 100 percent out of a car. True praise indeed.

However, it was in the second half of the season, once the opposition had their own double diffusers and Brawn had begun to lose its edge, especially in terms of set-up, that Jenson really proved his mettle.

Although teammate Barrichello appeared to handle the situation more easily, clearly able to readapt himself to the car, Button refused to surrender, making the most of an ever more difficult situation.

Following a four-race lean spell, not to mention a first lap clash with Lewis Hamilton at Spa, Jenson took a well deserved second at Monza. Subsequently, at a time when some wondered if the Englishman really wanted the title, he gave a determined performance at Interlagos that had all the hallmarks of a true champion. It was highly appropriate therefore that he finally secured the title there.

Despite the title, despite the 6 wins, some remained sceptical of the Englishman claiming that with the Brawn almost anyone could have won the title. Imagine their glee therefore when it announced shortly after the end of the season, once Mercedes had bought the Brawn team, that Button was heading to McLaren where he would partner Hamilton.

Even those not usually given to sensationalism predicted it would be a bloodbath of epic proportions, and while some of us wanted to know the exact reason for the split with Brackley others were content merely to look forward to the season in which Jenson would finally be 'found out'.

However, watching him in 2009, following the trials and tribulations of the close season when it looked as though his career might be at an end, Jenson seemed a new man in 2010, at one with his team and a million miles away from the playboy who so infuriated us earlier in his career. And so it was that he continued to mature at Woking.

For many, McLaren was seen as Hamilton's team, the youngster being a perfect example of a talent brought up in-house through the ranks. While it was not expected that Jenson would find things as difficult as Fernando Alonso, many predicted that other than getting a good mauling on track from his teammate, the youngster would find it difficult working within an operation that was virtually built around Hamilton.

However, being the team player that he is, Jenson didn't set out to rock the boat, instead he settled into the Woking team's way of doing things and got to work.

Following an OK performance in Bahrain, Jenson came back in Australia taking a win that was typical of the Englishman's driving style, his strategic knowledge and his determination. While it was clear from the post-race celebrations that Jenson was now very much part of the McLaren family, his sceptics were forced to admit that perhaps they'd been wrong.

McLaren struggled in Malaysia but in China, like Melbourne held in changeable conditions, Jenson took his second win of the season and with it the lead in the Drivers' Championship. Suddenly, those few remaining sceptics were silenced, could the Englishman possibly win back-to-back titles?

In Monaco his race was over before it had even begun, the Englishman forced to retire after just three laps after a mechanic left a cooling duct in his radiator.

In Turkey, while the Red Bulls were tripping over one another, Jenson and his teammate were beginning a run of strong results that would include two 1-2s and see McLaren take a convincing lead in the championship. However, it's worth noting that when Jenson made a successful move on his teammate to take the lead in Istanbul, despite having seen what had happened to Vettel and Webber just a few laps earlier, Hamilton quickly re-took the position putting the 2009 champ firmly in his place.

In the second half of the season, already losing ground to Red Bull, McLaren found itself under increasing pressure from Fernando Alonso and Ferrari. The situation was not helped by Jenson's poor qualifying form which usually meant he was facing an uphill struggle on Sunday afternoon.

At Spa he was the innocent victim of a ludicrous move by Sebastian Vettel while he came close to a win at Monza only to be pipped by Alonso who eased out of the pits just ahead of the Englishman's McLaren in the closing stages.

Other than some poor qualifying performances and a couple of races when he seemed content just to poodle around, Jenson gave a good account of himself in 2010, indeed, he was in with a shot at the title with just a couple of races remaining.

Retained by McLaren for 2011, Jenson continued to impress on track as he also firmly established himself at the heart of the Woking family.

Despite a slow start to the season in Australia, Jenson took a convincing second in Malaysia, followed by podium finishes in Spain and Monaco. Indeed, in Monaco the McLaren driver, courtesy of excellent tyre strategy, was in with a very strong chance of victory when the race was red-flagged - ironically due to an incident involving his teammate - at which point Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were allowed to change tyres and thereby thwart Jenson's efforts.

Two weeks later in Canada however, Jenson took what he believes to be one of the best wins of his career. Having survived a clash with his teammate, a puncture following another clash with Alonso, a drive through for speeding under the safety car - the penalty dropping him to last place - Jenson fought back to mount a sustained attack on race leader Vettel and causing the German to make a mistake on the final lap which was to allow the McLaren driver to take the lead having made 27 on-track passes over the course of the afternoon.

Having finished sixth at Valencia, Jenson suffered two consecutive retirements in Britain and Germany. At Silverstone his crew failed to fit a wheel nut correctly during his first pit stop, while at the Nurburgring a hydraulics issue sidelined the 2009 champ.

His luck changed in Hungary however, where, celebrating his 200th Grand Prix, Jenson used his silky smooth style and tyre strategy to score a popular win.

A miscommunication with his team meant he qualified thirteenth in Belgium, however, a strong performance, including overtaking Alonso with two laps remaining, saw him finish third behind the Red Bull duo.

A brace of seconds in Italy and Singapore meant that Jenson was now the only driver who could challenge Vettel for the title, though the mathematical chances were slim. That said, his pursuit of Vettel in Singapore was awesome. Closing down the German at over a second a lap, the Englishman was looking good for a remarkable victory however, traffic problems on the street track were to deny him.

Prior to the Japanese race, Jenson signed a new multi-year contract with McLaren, rumoured to be worth 85m. He celebrated the deal with an emotional victory. Having qualified second, just 0.009 seconds behind Vettel, Jenson got past the German in the second round of pit stops having conserved his tyres through his second stint and staying out longer before pitting. Ironically, it was the Englishman's first win for McLaren in dry conditions. More importantly, a big fan of all things Japanese, not least his 'missus', Jessica Michibata, Jenson was keen to do something positive in the country at a time when it was still recovering from the Tsunami earlier in the year.

In India, Jenson, who had qualified fourth, moved up to second on the first lap, overtaking Alonso at Turn 1 and Webber on the back straight. He eventually finished second behind Vettel, whose race pace he had been unable to match.

In Abu Dhabi, the Englishman qualified and finished third, his teammate Hamilton winning the race after Vettel suffered a puncture on the first lap and later retired with suspension damage. Though he had a recurring KERS problem for much of the race Jenson was still able to establish a good gap to fourth placed Webber.

In the season finale in Brazil, Jenson again started third and finished third, out-paced only by the Red Bull duo. The result secured second place in the championship, albeit 122 points behind Vettel, however, it marked the first time that Lewis Hamilton had been out-scored by a teammate.

Despite the 2009 title, and even the progress made with McLaren in 2010, there remained sceptics. However, surely Jenson's performances in 2011 will have converted those remaining doubting Thomases.

It was hoped that the mistakes would have been learned from and that the MP4-27 would be good straight out of the box. However, while it was clearly on the pace to all intents and purposes 2012 was a disaster for the Woking team as it continually appeared to shoot itself in the foot.

If it wasn't strategy it was sloppy pit work, if it wasn't pace it was unreliability. Seven wins makes it clear that when it was good the 27 was very good, sadly, however, there were too many days when it wasn't.

Nonetheless, both drivers did the best they could with the equipment at their disposal, indeed, Button got the team's season off to the best possible start by taking victory in the season opener at Melbourne.

However, the Pirelli tyres which were to make the opening races of the 2012 season so very special were to prove particularly difficult for the Englishman. Unable to generate heat into them his performances on Saturday afternoons left him with a mountain to climb come Sunday. Even at season's end, the thirteen-season veteran was still admitting to having the problem.

Nonetheless, he finished in fifth place overall just two points behind his teammate, though that says more about Hamilton's poor luck and reliability than anything else.

That said, not only did Jenson bookend the season with wins he also took victory on the ultimate in drivers' circuits, Spa.

With Hamilton heading to Mercedes and the relatively inexperienced Sergio Perez on board, Jenson now has the opportunity to mould the team around him and establish himself as team leader at one of the most respected outfits in the business. That's providing McLaren provides a good car and the 2013 rubber isn't as difficult to master.

Statistics - at the end of 2012 Season

Drivers' Titles: 1
Seasons in F1: 13
Grand Prix: 227
Wins: 15
Poles: 8
Fastest Laps: 8

Best result in 2012: 1st (3 times)
Best qualifying 2012: Pole (Belgium)
Worst qualifying 2012: 18th (Britain)

2012: Out-qualified Lewis Hamilton 4 times
2012: Out-qualified by Lewis Hamilton 16 times

2012: Completed 1105 out of 1192 laps (92.7%)
2012: Finished 18 times from 20 starts (90%)

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