The Ascension of Jenson Button

‘I can’t see a time when I might stop.’

The 2012 Formula One season unveiled many new things, stepped noses, Kimi Raikkonen, a reshuffled grid and one driver with a fresh delivery of self confidence. Opening the year with a win is simply the only way to do it as they are stamping their authority on the season in a car without race mileage, with only three sessions of Winter testing under its belt the car is at its most primitive, relative to the last race. Although there were doubts Sebastian Vettel was generally expected to claim the top step in Australia, relying on the foundations cemented over the past two years. However it was Jenson Button that took the chequered flag for himself, giving Formula One fans the world over a glimpse at life without the bull.

Button celebrating his first win in Hungary 2006

This has not been an overnight sensation by any stretch of the imagination, Button has slogged his way from the back of the grid the long way, completing stints at Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda and Brawn GP before finally landing at McLaren. First stepping onto the grid in 2000 with Williams it wasn’t until his sixth season that he claimed his first win, at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix he started in 14th and poor weather and a safety car aided Button’s cause. It allowed him to chase down the lead driver, Fernando Alonso, and pounce on the lead when the Spaniard’s right rear wheel nut detached. The Brit would then have to sit tight for another two years before his inked a deal with Brawn GP that would catapult the Frome native into the history books; one season, one team, one double championship.

The one shot team became Mercedes and Button left for the home of Lewis Hamilton, McLaren. Widely declared a foolish decision, since Hamilton joined the team his teammates (Fernando Alonso [1 season] and Heikki Kovalainen [2 seasons]) have had a rough ride, and Button was merely lined up as the next. Whereas Hamilton was McLaren through and though (the Vettel before Vettel) with three seasons and 11 wins plus a championship, Button had been in the same game for eight season with one win. Their first season together saw Hamilton finish ahead, naturally, but as Button got comfortable he called on his years of service to keep calm and collected when his teammate fell apart.

"We are the champions..."

2011 was the year the current grid took a step back to watch in awe as Red Bull and Vettel pummeled them into submission, they all begged for mercy apart from one man and Button was called upon to the be the saving grace in desperate times. His maturity shone through as beset by personal problems on and off track Hamilton fell by the wayside, and others couldn’t compete. Button’s heroic display in Canada was his full-blown arrival, he may have won the title in 2009 but even he admitted he was a much better driver now. “I have a lot more confidence, not just in my ability to drive the car, but my ability to make the right calls in the race.” Speaking in 2011, it’s hard not to find fault with that.

So in 2012 the British driver claimed the number three car, relegating Hamilton to the ‘number two’ slot in car four. Although it was made clear this wasn’t a slight on Hamilton, and was just a matter of 2011 table position, it’s impossible to ignore the psychological implications. The Vettel vs. Webber battle over 2010/2011 proved how dangerous the intra-team fight can be, and if history is to be repeated Button’s consistently lauded performances throughout 2011 could see Hamilton become the 2012 version of Webber. Not Australian and outspoken (although the latter got Hamilton in a spot of bother last year), but visibly psychologically struggle against a team mate who has confidence in reserve.

The future?

Recent news about Button has mainly surrounded a possible switch to Ferrari, and partnering a certain double world champion. “…I personally feel it would be exciting having Fernando as a team mate,” explaining first that this would only be if Hamilton was not competing, perhaps in an effort to play down talk about an apparent offer he was given last year to replace Felipe Massa. Although this is yet to be confirmed, if at all, this goes to show that even the Brazilian media are willing to invest in Button stocks.

As it stands despite a rough race in Malaysia, with uncharacteristic tyre issues and a clash with Narain Karthikeyan, Button has glided into 2012 as the stand out bet on taking the world championship this year. McLaren team principal is inclined to agree, “[Button] must now believe he’s in a good chance of a proper title run this year and providing we can continue to improve the car, not make mistakes, be reliable there’s no reason why he can’t do that.” However Hamilton is certainly showing a marked improvement, with a more settled personal life he has ended up on the podium twice, and is vocally more determined than ever to challenge for the title. Let battle commence!

If it’s a good time to be a McLaren fan, then it’s a great time to be a Button fan.

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