Following the end of the 2014 Grand Prix season and not for the first time, Jenson Button entered the winter months with an uncertain future. It looked as though the returning McLaren-Honda partnership had no room for the 2009 world champion, and Jenson would find himself without a Grand Prix seat for the coming year.
Eventually McLaren announced Button as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate for 2014, ending weeks of concern for one of the most popular drivers of recent times.
266 Grand Prix starts have heralded 15 victories, 50 podiums, 8 pole positions, 8 fastest laps, 1198 points and one emotional world championship. Few have achieved so much whilst soaking in the admiration of so many.
With that in mind, as Jenson prepares for another two seasons with McLaren, and his legion of fans look forward to the future, here’s a look at his ten best races since joining the F1 fraternity as a fresh-faced Formula 3 graduate at the turn of the century:
10 – 2000 Australian GP
It was following Alex Zanardi’s departure from Williams that Jenson was handed his initial Grand Prix opportunity. Successfully seeing off a challenge from fellow F3 star Bruno Junqueira in a one-on-one shoot out, Sir Frank chose Button as his new charger, earning the 20 year-old the title of Britain’s youngest Formula One driver to date.
His debut down-under didn’t get off to a great start; during practice aboard the brand new BMW-powered FW22, the new Williams recruit stuffed his first F1 car into Melbourne’s unforgiving tyre barrier, damaging three of the car’s four corners. In qualifying, Button lined up 21st, only ahead of fellow debutant Gaston Mazzacane, a result that prompted the young Button to reflect “it can’t get worse than this”.
The race itself would prove promising but reward little. In the opening lap Button made up six places, in part courtesy of a clash between Marc Gene and rookie Nick Heidfeld. A string of incidents, accidents and pit-stops placed Button third by lap 36, although his own stop for fresh rubber and a fuel top-up was still to come.
With just 11 laps to go, thanks to consistent pace and the smooth driving that would soon become his signature style, the Williams’ rookie resided in sixth, destined it seemed for a world championship point at the first time of asking. Button’s 3.0 litre BMW V10 had other ideas however, as smoke began to exude from its left bank. Failure was imminent and Button was left stranded trackside at turn three, with nothing to show from a promising debut performance.
9 – 2000 Brazilian Grand Prix
Two weeks later Button would capture that illusive point in his second race, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos. Qualifying had seen a notable improvement from the young Englishman, ninth on the grid, two places higher than experienced team-mate Ralf Schumacher and just 1.3 seconds from pole position.
While the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello fought for victory with the McLarens of Mike Hakkinen and David Coulthard, Button found himself embroiled in a race-long fight with the younger Schumacher brother in the identical Williams. On a one-stop strategy, Ralf stopped a lap earlier than Button, a decision that rewarded the German; he emerged from the pits metres ahead of Jos Verstappen’s Arrows whilst Button, following his own pit stop, found himself inches behind Jos ‘The Boss’.
Unable to catch his team-mate, Jenson crossed the finish line seventh, one position shy of a points-paying place. But the race was far from over; with the exception of Giancarlo Fisichella, the top six finishers were all disqualified! Scrutineering had detected illegalities with each car’s wooden floor plank. Naturally, each team appealed and on further inspection only Coulthard remained disqualified. In short, Button found himself promoted to sixth and received the first of his 1198 points.
8 – 2004 San Marino Grand Prix
Jenson’s star quality and talent had been recognised for some time but the 2004 season saw Button truly arrive as one of Grand Prix racing’s top performers. The year was set to be dominated by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher but it was Button who arguably impressed more.
The first three races of the year saw dominant wins for Schumacher and the Scuderia, all of them from pole. For the fourth race at Imola, San Marino, little was expected to change. It was a surprise to some therefore when Jenson emerged as the only driver to dip below the 1-minute 20-seconds mark, 0.258s quicker than runaway championship leader Schumacher, and on pole-position for the first time in his career.
In the race it was expected that Ferrari would simply flex their superior muscles and Jenson would perhaps find himself third on the podium, a result he had achieved in the previous two races. But with a sublime start Jenson lead the race until his first pit-stop, comfortably pulling away from much of the field, the exception being one M. Schumacher.
The German pumped in two qualifying style laps before his own first stop to emerge ahead of Button. From there, Button had no answer for the multiple world champion. He did however come home an as-of-then career best second; to the astonishment of many, Button finished less than 10-seconds behind Schumacher and almost 12-seconds ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams.
7 – 2010 Australian Grand Prix
Jenson had entered the lion’s den, destined, it was assumed, to receive a severe thrashing from team-mate and McLaren protégé Lewis Hamilton. Rubbishing that thought almost immediately, Button claimed victory in only his second outing as a McLaren man, at the Australian Grand Prix of 2010.
Despite making contact with Alonso at turn one Button continued inside the top 10 as the rain that had been falling since before the race began to subside. With typical Button ‘feel’ he was first to make a stop for dry tyres and once all else had followed suit he was second only to Vettel.
When Vettel’s Red Bull suffered race-ending mechanical trouble, Button inherited the lead, still feeling his way in tricky wet/dry conditions. He claimed the victory, twelve seconds ahead of Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber and firmly demonstrated his ability to withstand the pressure of going toe-to-toe with the highly rated Hamilton in a team built, seemingly, around the younger Briton.
6 – 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
Few people remember who won the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix. What sits so soundly in memory is the thrilling climax to the year-long battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for the world championship.
Likewise, the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix will long be remembered for the race in which Sebastian Vettel claimed a third title, overcoming the ever-battling Fernando Alonso in one the finest contests the sport had ever seen. And like Mario Andretti, the oft-forgotten winner of that ’76 final, Jenson Button once more tamed treacherous conditions to claim victory when attention was elsewhere.
Following an initial downpour early in the race, Button – along with Nico Hulkenburg in his Force India – pulled off a masterstroke by not stopping for intermediate tyres, instead staying out on slicks. When the rain began to ease and all but Hulkenburg and Button pitted for slicks, the German stole the lead, only for any advantage to be erased courtesy of the safety car’s deployment on lap 23.
When the race resumed in damp conditions, Button conceded second to Hamilton, the latter appearing to be quick enough to challenge the on-form Hulkenburg. Hamilton’s task was eased when the Force India driver endured a half-spin and dropped to second. He fought back, caught Hamilton and attempted to retake to lead…but botched it; Hamilton was forced to retire due to the clash and Hulkenburg was handed a race-ruining penalty.
Button assumed the lead as seemingly the only driver not to make an error all race long. When Paul di Resta crashed heavily at the final turn on lap 68, the race was set for an anti-climactic finish behind the safety car, with our man Button the victor.
It had been a sublime performance, one that went virtually unnoticed as Vettel celebrated a hard-fought third world title and Fernando Alonso swallowed the bitter pill of defeat.
5 – 2010 Turkish Grand Prix
The short-lived Grand Prix of Turkey rarely delivered nail biting action, but that of 2010 is perhaps an exception.
Button had qualified fourth, half-a-second slower than Mark Webber on pole with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel slotting in between. It would be these four drivers who provided much of the excitement come race day.
The four men scarpered off into the distance from the start, sifted through their first pit-stops and emerged in the order of Webber, Vettel, Hamilton whilst Button resided in fourth. With Michael Schumacher many seconds behind, the two Red Bulls and both McLarens began lapping remarkably close to one another, separated at times by a mere couple of seconds, Button keeping a watchful eye on any emerging drama.
That drama came on lap 40 when Vettel attempted to pass Webber for the lead, misjudging the move and colliding with his team-mate. Vettel was out and Webber was forced to pit, leaving Hamilton leading Button.
It was the first time the two men had been presented with the opportunity to battle wheel-to-wheel for victory in identical cars and it was assumed from the start of the year that Button would struggle to keep pace with Hamilton. But what followed was a nail-biting climax to an intriguing race with Button and Hamilton repeatedly swapping the lead, often coming within inches of colliding. Button showing all that he was not to be underestimated.
Hamilton was ultimately victorious but Jenson had proved his ability in the most stark and thrilling way possible
4 – 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix
It was the moment British fans felt they had been waiting a lifetime for; the sight of Jenson Button punching the air whilst he rounded the Hungaroring’s final corner as he cruised to a maiden Grand Prix victory.
It hadn’t been easy; an engine failure during practice and the resulting replacement unit earned Jenson a 10-place grid penalty. He had initially qualified fourth, meaning he would start 14th come Sunday.
It had never rained at the Hungarian Grand Prix before, but in 2004 mother nature played a pivotal role; the race started with a sodden track and in the days of a burgeoning tyre war between Michelin and Bridgestone it was the former that proved to be the rubber to have. As the Bridgestone shod drivers struggled, the likes of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button shone.
With his trademark smooth driving style and sixth sense for reading the conditions, Button found himself in second place, having benefitted somewhat from a safety car period in which he refused to pit for fresh rubber and fuel.
When finally emerging from the pits, Jenson resided still in second place and set about reeling in the Renault of Alonso. The task was eased when the Renault’s rear wheel came adrift following a botched pit-stop and Alonso found himself crashing out.
From there to the end Button was in total control, taming his Honda in difficult conditions better than all comers, eventually winning for the first time, some 30-seconds clear of Pedro de la Rosa’s McLaren and Nick Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber.
3 – 2012 Belgian Grand Prix
Dominance in Formula One is usually attributed to the likes of Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel or more recently, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. But during the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, Jenson Button was simply untouchable.
He had achieved, remarkably, only his first pole-position for McLaren in 51 attempts, 0.298s ahead of Kamui Koboyashi’s Sauber. The start however will be remembered for the frightening crash in which Romain Grosjean squeezed Lewis Hamilton toward the pit will, starting a chain of alarming events resulting in Grosjean’s Lotus launching over Sergio Perez’ Sauber and narrowly missing the head and hands of Fernando Alonso.
At the restart, as with the initial race start, Button simply headed for the horizon, never headed until the chequered flag greeted him. It had been a rare example of perfection from a driver not known for winning easy, or in bone dry conditions.
2 – 2009 Brazilain Grand Prix
“It had to be today, I told myself”. There was still a race to go after the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2009 but Jenson told himself that he had to clinch the title at Interlagos.
Not making his task any easier was the tropical storm that struck the circuit on the Saturday, making qualifying the lengthiest in history; 2 hours and 41 minutes it took for Rubens Barrichello to clinch pole-position aboard his Brawn GP001.
For once, the adverse weather failed to aid Button’s cause; mirroring his first Grand Prix success three years previously in Hungary, Jenson would start the race from 14th on the grid. He would need to finish within four points of team-mate Barrichello to seal the 2009 drivers’ title. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel needed to finish first or second in order to stay in contention too.
The race was thrilling, with Barrichello looking to stay in title contention by winning his home race for the first time and Mark Webber looking to score a first victory in Formula One.
Button meanwhile had driven the race of his career thus far, storming through the field with uncharacteristic aggression, diving past many drivers with supreme precision and bravery, to the extent of even deliberately kicking the rear of his Brawn GP car sideways on the exit of turn one to stop others beating him to the apex of turn 2.
Button’s aggression resulted in a fifth place finish and with his team-mate finishing 8th and Vettel only fourth, the world title was Jenson’s!
1 – 2011 Canadian Grand Prix
It would be the longest Grand Prix in history, yet the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix would be memorable for much more than its impressive duration, and our man Jenson would be the star.
As with the efforts of Stirling Moss at Monaco in 1961 or Juan Manuel Fangio’s victory at the Nurburgring in 1957, Jenson Button’s victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2011 has gone down in Formula One folklore as one of the sport’s greatest performances.
Jenson qualified a nondescript seventh but would come from the rear of the field twice to claim his greatest victory amidst torrential downpour. After making contact with team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the start/finish straight, Button received a drive through penalty for speeding behind the safety car, the result of Hamilton’s stranded McLaren.
The rain intensified and the race was stopped with Jenson, choosing the right tyres for the conditions throughout, in 10th place. When the race restarted some 2 hours later, Jenson equipped himself with the appropriate intermediate tyres and set about challenging Fernando Alonso. The pair collided at turn 3, leaving Alonso stranded on the exit curb and out of the race. Jenson meanwhile suffered light damage to his front wing and a front right tyre puncture.
The safety car led the field once more and a fresh-from-pitting Button resided in 21st and last place. Just a handful of laps later he had fought valiantly up the field to 14th. Thereafter he charged though the field in a manner rarely seen, scything past all bar Sebastian Vettel with 5 laps to go, setting faster and faster laps as the track dried and he hunted down Vettel.
As the final lap commenced, the German led Button by just 0.9 seconds, and then, at turn 6, Vettel touched the damp section of track just centimetres wide of the racing line; his Red Bull slewed sideways and off the track. Button shot through to take the lead for the first time in the race having made 6 trips through the pitlane and crashed twice.
Button claimed his finest victory, 2.7 seconds ahead of Vettel.
“I enjoyed it very much coming through the field, fighting your way through the field is almost as good as winning the race. That feeling of getting one up on someone. A great race for people who are sat here, to be on the podium is a pretty exceptional result and to fight my way through from last position… It is definitely my best race.”