Jenson Button’s exit is a sad moment for F1
After a qualifying session that saw world champion Lewis Hamilton storm to pole position, Formula One received some sad news. McLaren driver Jenson Button announced that he is taking a one-year hiatus from the sport. However, while this may seem brief, many pundits are of the belief that this is his final season in the fast lane. It’s a sorry blow.
Button is one of the most loved drivers on the Grand Prix circuit and the prospect of his absence is really quite sad. His down-to-Earth and gentlemanly persona sees him an incredibly popular and adored figure in the paddock. The 36-year-old refused to rule out a 2018 return, but we’d be unwise not to prepare for the end of an era.
The British driver can certainly look back on a superb career in the sport. This is despite the fact he spent the first nine years of his tenure left utterly frustrated across no less than five teams. The only highlight proved his unlikely victory at the 2006 Hungarian GP, which saw him end a 113-race wait for top spot on the podium. Many thought that would be his only time in the sun though.
They, of course, were proven wrong in 2009. In one of the true fairytale stories of sport, newly founded Brawn GP swooped to world championship glory with Button as the spearhead. The 36-year-old shocked the world with six victories in the opening seven events. Button tailed off considerably in the second half off the campaign but did enough in Brazil to make history.
Brawn GP existed for just one year and they won the title with the ‘mediocre’ Button and ‘ancient’ Rubens Barrichello in the cockpits.
It inevitably proved the watershed moment for Button who secured a move to McLaren alongside 2008 champ, Lewis Hamilton. What followed was one of the most entertaining partnerships in recent years in which, arguably, Button prevailed. The 2010 Chinese GP saw the ex-Honda driver defeat Hamilton in a classic 17-lap face-off and he regularly out-qualified his younger colleague.
However, aside from his title, perhaps the finest moment proved his Montreal win in 2011. Unbelievably, Button took glory despite finding himself in last place in the pouring rain at one point. Nonetheless, the McLaren star fought back and forced Sebastian Vettel into a last lap mistake to claim victory. It’s still regarded as one of the great races in Formula One history.
Then of course there was glory in Japan, a country he adores, in the same year. Vettel may have stormed to the world title in 2011, but Button gave him a racing lesson at Suzuka. Despite the best efforts of Hamilton, Alonso and the German, Button executed what he nominates as his greatest ever performance.
Recent years have been comparatively sorry for Button though. Since Hamilton’s departure, McLaren’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. The British driver hasn’t won since Brazil 2012 and has now been reduced to a driver lingering at the back of the pack. Even with Alonso as a teammate and a switch in engine provider, McLaren have withered away.
Consequently, time in the sport has caught up with Button. Simply running through his career just now and his fairytale rise to acclaim exemplifies just why he’ll be missed. All this, while staying remarkably grounded and not prancing around arrogantly in a manner with which Hamilton can often be guilty.
This is a man who loved to race and remained humble through the highlights; determined during the low points. Perhaps not the most talented driver to ever sit behind the wheel, but one who was eventually rewarded for his incomparable graft and, if you’ll ignore the pun, drive.
Besides, his joyous trumpeting of Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ down the team radio in 2009 is simply sporting gold. While many fans will hope he does in fact return the season after next, maybe now is a good point at which to call time. They say never return and it would only prove a shame if Button were to comeback to a McLaren team still treading water.
Nevertheless, whether triathlons or rallies prove the next chapter for Button, he’s earned some time with his feet up. A world championship and 15 race wins can’t be bad to reflect upon after all.
YJA Senior Correspondent