In April we featured an article on Jenson Button’s ascent from rookie to champion, and after Australia it seemed that Jenson Button was in for another strong year with pre-season testing going McLaren’s way too. After Lewis Hamilton’s less than stellar exhibition in 2011 fans and pundits alike were looking to Button to mount a challenge on Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.
It was a fair assumption at the beginning of the season that Button could win his second championship after a great showing throughout 2011 where it was widely acknowledged , but it is one that has failed to materialise. Since he graced the top step in Australia back in March he has visited once more in second place in China and his only other points scored was a 9th in Barcelona. Then with four other races garnering zero points his chase for the championship is yet to fully engage, at the moment he is adrift of the top of the standings by 43 points, sandwiched between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Pérez.
The aforementioned Mexican driver is having praise heaped upon him from up and down the paddock for his Button-esque ability with tyres, something Pirelli’s Paul Hembery was inclined to agree with after Canada, “It was another great drive from Sergio Pérez, who once again demonstrated his perfect understanding of the tyres.” What perhaps is more galling for Button is that Grosjean is ahead with three retirements under his belt.
His mental strength and maturity under pressure served him well in a season overshadowed by a single driver in 2011 and likewise during his championship winning year with his career saver Brawn GP. And it was widely acknowledged that last year he was driving better than ever, Button still hasn’t lost that skill or maturity, so why is the talented British driver finding points so hard to come by?
His most recent outing in Canada has been the most telling of his state of mind as Formula One returns to Europe once more, leaving the Gilles Villeneuve circuit where he was lapped, he was quoted as being ‘confused and very lost’. Not the tagline he would have wanted after a stunning victory by his resurgent team mate, however he was quick to ensure he wasn’t ‘disappointed’ just at a loss to comprehend the situation, “I didn’t think I’d have days like these in my career again, and I don’t understand it.”
Those who have followed his career closely already know that Button has experienced more troubling times than this, during the 2007 and 2008 seasons the underperforming Honda threatened a career that had then only seen one win. Only scoring on three occasions to collect nine points over two seasons was a low point he is unlikely to ever face again, but his recent downturn in form is something McLaren and their eldest driver are fighting to resolve as the season nears the halfway mark.
Defending his corner is McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “He is a super-smooth driver and we just didn’t give him a car he could do it with. We have to get it right.” But what is the right car for their man? We all know that tyres are this man’s gambit, but getting them up to temperature is a distinct problem this year, plaguing him heavily during qualifying which results in starting Sunday further back than expected.
In an effort to combat this Button has trialed various brake materials to generate higher temperature to bring the tyres into his prefered operating window, but with a notably stiffer front and the lost of rear end stability his McLaren is getting harder to select a set up for. In fact, Button has now resorted to using Hamilton’s set up as a foundation to improve his chances in Valencia.
Button might now be defending his numerous radio transmissions complaining about balance and grip, but he still feels strong as a driver and is still up for fighting for the remaining points available. “Mentally it’s not a problem because I know I can still drive a racing car,” as quoted by the Guardian. If Button is as mentally strong as he professes then ‘down and out’ is a too hasty description of his season and ‘up and coming’ is more apt, however if the pointless races continue to rack up his mettle will be heavily tested . If not by the media, his fans and his team, then definitely by himself.