On Jenson Button’s 32nd birthday, we take a look back at his time in Formula One.
Jenson Button was born on 19th January 1980 in Somerset and raised in Vobster. He changed his name from Jensen to Jenson to differentiate himself from Jensen motors.
Button began karting at the age of eight, after his father bought him his first kart, and made an extraordinarily successful start. He came 1st in the British Super Prix in 1989, aged 9. He won every race out of the 34 races, along with the title in the 1991 British Cadet Kart Championship. In 1997, he won the Ayrton Senna Memorial Cup and also became the youngest driver ever to win the European Super A Championship.
When he was 18, He began getting into car racing, winning the British Formula Ford Championship with Haywood Racing team. At the end of 1998, he won the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award. As a result, He won a test in a McLaren Formula One car, which he received at the end of the following year. Button entered British Formula Three in 1999 with the Promatecme team. He won three races and finished the season as the top rookie driver and third overall.
At the end of 1999, Button tested for McLaren and Prost but a seat arose at Williams. Williams team boss Frank Williams arranged a test between Button and Bruno Junqueira, a Formula 3000 driver. Button won and secured the drive.
He made his debut in Australia but crashed during practice and qualified second-last on the grid. However, he performed strongly in the race and was set to score a point before his engine failed 11 laps from the chequered flag. A sixth-place finish at the next race in Brazil made him the youngest driver ever to score a point. In his first six races, he outqualified his teammate Ralf Schumacher twice and was always close in pace to his team mate.
Button’s best qualification of the season was third place in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and his best result was fourth in the German Grand Prix. Button finished his impressive debut season in eighth place with 12 points (Ralf finished in 5th place with 24 points).
In 2001, Button was bought for two years by Benetton off Williams. His team mate there was Giancarlo Fisichella. Despite having a great rookie season, His second season in F1 was awful. He had an uncompetitive car and was constantly out performed by his team mate. He finished the year with 2 points and 17th in the championship.
In 2002, Button partnered Jarno Trulli at the team which had been re-branded as Renault. He felt a lot better in this car, and in Malaysia he was on the way to his first ever podium in F1 until a problem in the last few laps dropped him to 4th place. Button was a lot faster than he was in 2001, and though he was often outqualified by Jarno Trulli, Button often out-raced him. On the weekend of the French Grand Prix, it was announced that he would be leaving the team to make space for Fernando Alonso in 2003. Button then secured a place with British American Racing (BAR) for the next 3 years. He finished 2002 with 14 points and in seventh, ahead of Jarno Trulli.
When he joined BAR in 2003, Jacques Villeneuve showed him a lot of hostility, saying that he had been hired for advertising instead of talent. Button replied saying “I am not here to gain Jacques respect”. This hostility did not stop after the first race, with Villeneuve pitting when Jenson was due, Leaving Button waiting in the pits. Button scored eight points in the next six races. In Monaco, Button crashed heavily and had to be taken to hospital. Button wanted to race but his team would not allow him as a precaution. He continued to out perform Villeneuve and finished the season in ninth place with 17 points.
For 2004, Button partnered Japanese Takuma Sato at BAR after they sacked Villeneuve. He took his first ever F1 podium in Malaysia, only to repeat this in the next race at Bahrain. In the next race at Imola, He secured his first pole position and finished the race 2nd behind Michael Schumacher. Button scored 10 podiums in 18 races and finished 3rd in the drivers championship, behind the 2 Ferrari drivers.
In August, Button became embroiled in a contract dispute. On 5 August, Button chose to leave BAR and signed a two-year contract to return to Williams. This was surprising, as Button was enjoying his best season to date, while Williams had been struggling. BAR, however, insisted they had the right to exercise their option to keep Button. Button’s management argued that the BAR option was not valid because it contained a clause allowing him to leave if BAR risked losing their Honda engines. They felt the new contract signed in the summer for Honda to supply engines to BAR was not definitive, and thus Button was free to move. The dispute went to Formula One’s Contract Recognition Board, who ruled in favour of BAR on 20 October, forcing Button to stay with the team. Two of the men at the centre of the dispute were soon removed from their positions: team principal David Richards was replaced by Nick Fry after Honda bought 45 percent of the BAR business. Button separated from his manager John Byfield, saying he had been badly advised.
In 2005, BAR had a very bad start to the season with both cars being off the pace in the season opening race at Australia and both cars retiring in Malaysia, two weeks later. In the fourth race, A problem was found with the car by the stewards. Both BAR’s had their points from Imola stripped and they were banned for the next two races. They returned at the European race at Nurburgring and finished 10th. In Canada, He surprised everyone by claiming his second pole position of his career but he crashed out on lap 47. In the famous 2005 US Grand Prix, He was one of the 14 drivers not allowed to race after Michelin advised the teams that the tyres were not suitable on the weekend. However, After this, He scored in all the remaining races. He finished the season in 9th place with 37 points.
For the second year in a row, Button had contract disputes involving BAR and Williams. Button had signed a pre-contract to drive for Williams in 2006, but he now felt that he would be better at BAR, and that his Williams contract was not binding. Williams boss, Frank Williams insisted the contract was fully binding, and that there would be “absolutely no turning back”; his team required Button to fulfil some contractual obligations with sponsors. After several weeks of talks, Williams agreed to release Button in exchange for an estimated £18 million in compensation.
For the 2006 season, Button partnered Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who had left Ferrari. Again, he had a slow start to the season. In Bahrain, he finished in 4th place after starting in 2nd. In Australia, He fell down the grid before his engine blew up and he was forced to retire. At his home race in Silverstone, He got delayed while he was being weighed and suffered in Qualifying, Only managing 19th place. The following day, he spun off on lap 8 and retired.
Button took his first ever win in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix – his 113th Grand Prix start of his career. He started 14th after a 10-place grid penalty for an engine change. The race was badly affected by heavy rain, Conditions which he is now famous for driving excellently in. Button passed a number of drivers in the early laps and was up to fourth by lap 10. Following the retirement of leading drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, he went on to win the race by just over half a minute from Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld. In a now famous interview with BBC’s Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson repeatedly criticised Button for never winning a race, And Button told him he would try his best at the next race. That programme was recorded 5 days before the win!
Button finished fourth or fifth for the next five races and finished the season with a 3rd place in Brazil.
In 2007, Button again partnered Rubens Barrichello at Honda. He had the usual bad start to the season. He qualified 14th in the opening Australian Grand Prix and finished in 15th place. In Malaysia, Button finished in 12th place. He retired from the Bahrain Grand Prix on turn 4 after a collision with David Coulthard. Button announced at the Silverstone Grand Prix that he would be at Honda in 2008. He described the 2007 season as a “Total disaster” but did have several good races near the end of the season, especially when there was rain. He finished the season in 15th place with 6 points.
Barrichello remained as Buttons team mate in 2008. Button had an awful season and he scored his only points at the Spanish Grand Prix where he finished 6th. He finished the season in 18th place with 3 points.
On December 5th 2008, Honda announced that they were quitting Formula One. This meant that Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button were both left without a drive for 2009. At the last minute, On March 5th, Ross Brawn bought the team, keeping both Button and Barrichello. Button took a 50% pay cut as part of the deal. Brawn GP had an amazing start. Button claimed pole position in the first race and Barrichello qualified 2nd. Button lead the race from start to finish and took a 1-2 for the team. One week later, He took pole again at Malaysia and went on to win the race. He finished 3rd place in China and took another win at Bahrain, Spain and Monaco. Button had won six of the first seven races! The british Grand Prix ended Button’s reign. He finished 6th at Silverstone, 5th at Germany and 7th at Hungary. Button returned to form at Monza where he finished in 2nd place behind team mate Barrichello. However, The following race at Spa marked his first DNF of the season when he collided with Romain Grosjean at the start. At the second last race in Brazil, He qualified 14th but finished the race in 7th, giving him enough of a lead in the points to secure the drivers championship, one race early. In Abu Dhabi, He finished in 3rd place. He finished the season in 1st place with 95 points.
On 18th November 2009, Button announced that he would be driving for McLaren for the 2010 season. He would be partnering 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton. Button finished in 7th place in the first race at Bahrain. In Australia two weeks later he won a very wet race at Australia with a very risky tyre strategy. In Malaysia, He finished 8th after starting in 17th place. He won the race In china, Which was another rain effected race. Button finished in 2nd place in Turkey after Red Bull’s famous collision when Sebastian Vettel drove into the side of the Mark Webber who had been leading the race. In Belgium, Button retired after Sebastian Vettel got it wrong on the 5th lap and drove into the side of him. At the penultimate race at Brazil, Button’s convoy was ambushed after qualifying while he was driving back to his hotel. Several gun men threatened him but they managed to escape thanks to the efforts of his driver. No-one was harmed. After the race at Brazil, He was mathematically eliminated from the championship after finishing in 5th place. He finished 2010 in 5th place in the championship with 214 points.
Button returned to McLaren for 2011 and would again partner Lewis Hamilton. The year began slowly for Button, finishing 2nd in Malaysia. He finished 3rd in Spain and Monaco. Two weeks after Monaco, In Canada, Button won the Canadian Grand Prix in what has been called his best win ever. Button had his team mate crash into him, made 5 pit stops, served a drive through, got dropped to last place, sustained a puncture after a collision with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, made 27 competitive overtakes and took the lead from Sebatian Vettel with under forty seconds left in the race in the longest Formula One race in History. It has been called the greatest race ever by the F1 community. Button had his first DNF in Silverstone when his front wheel fell off after a bad pitstop and had another DNF at Germany with Hydraulics issues. At Hungary, On his 200th Grand Prix, He won the race, where he won his first race 5 years beforehand. He finished 3rd in Spa, 2nd in Monza and Singapore and won the Japanese Grand Prix, when Sebastian Vettel finished 2nd and won his 2nd title. Button signed a new 3 Year contract with McLaren just before the race in Suzuka.Button finished the last 2 races of 2011 in 3rd place. He finished the season in 2nd place with 270 points. He is also the first team mate of Lewis Hamilton to finish ahead of him in a season.
Button has won all of his races with McLaren in Wet conditions (Except Suzuka 2011) and has joked about this, saying that his dad refused to buy him wet tyres when he was karting, So when he drives in wet races with wet tyres, he loves it!
Jenson will be driving the MP-27 for McLaren in 2012 and will again partner Lewis Hamilton.