Jenson Button: The McLaren drive
"Lewis is the fastest team-mate I’ve been up against"
At the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, Jenson Button had achieved his lifetime’s ambition. He was the Formula 1 drivers’ world champion – the highest accolade in the sport. But the season with Brawn GP was an extraordinary one-off. The team couldn’t survive another year financially and Ross Brawn sold his outfit to Mercedes.
Jenson Button was ready for a new challenge and a vacant seat at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes presented the perfect opportunity. For 2010 the Woking team paired two British world champions together, creating one of the strongest driver line-ups in the history of Formula 1.
"I had an inkling that for my future to blossom, I had to move somewhere else," said Jenson. "To still have the hunger and excitement and to come to a team that has achieved so much in the past, that does put pressure on you, which sometimes you need.
"Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time at Honda and Brawn because I had such a long relationship with them. But to race for McLaren was such an exciting chance, because they’ll always give you an opportunity to win a world championship."
Given their five decades of racing heritage, Jenson Button was impressed from the moment he first stepped inside the McLaren Technology Centre in the leafy suburbs of Surrey, England.
"When I first walked in I was amazed by the building itself and it’s doubly impressive to see the history of cars on the boulevard that have won world championships in the past," recalls Jenson.
"I started watching racing in the mid to late 1980s with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna driving for McLaren and, for me, those were great times. I really wanted to be a part of that history and to work with this team.
"But what really impressed me was the inside of the factory, being shown mission control and the bays where the mechanics work and the windtunnel – that’s what really excited me about joining McLaren."
Jenson Button, racing with the ‘number 1’ on his car to denote his prestigious world champion status began the next stage of career partnered with Lewis Hamilton in his sleek silver and red Mercedes-powered machine. And the partnership with his new team couldn’t have started better. In their second race together in Melbourne, in mixed weather conditions, he perfectly timed a tyre stop to brilliantly win the 2010 Australian Grand Prix. Two races on, in Shanghai, he repeated the feat proving his title success with Brawn was no fluke.
"It was very important to win in Melbourne for me and for the team to see that I was quick but that I also had the confidence to make my own decisions," said the new McLaren star. "That confidence comes with experience and also believing in yourself. I think a lot of that came from winning the title the previous season. It was a great race, a great victory and made me feel a big part of the team right from the beginning."
Despite losing out to Lewis Hamilton over the course of 2010, that spurred Jenson on for the following season and he came back even stronger, beating Lewis to second place in the world championship with 270 points to Lewis’s 227.
With three wins (in Canada, Hungary and Japan) and nine podiums, Jenson Button proved his status as one of the best drivers in the sport. Never was that more evident than in Montréal when he came through from last place in the race, to take a thrilling victory on the last lap.
But it was victory in Japan, in the year of the devastating tsunami, that stood out for Jenson, because of his relationship with his Japanese girlfriend Jessica Michibata.
"Suzuka was a different feeling," remembers Jenson. "Because of Jessica and my feelings about Japan – it’s a county that I love. After the race, it was very emotional, particularly as over the last few laps I was running out of fuel and I had Vettel and Alonso bearing down on me. I think emotionally that was the biggest win for me as it was very special to do it in front of the Japanese fans."
Jenson Button’s good form led to an extension of his McLaren contract and in 2012 he again scooped another three victories; in Australia, a dominating drive at Spa-Francorchamps, and finally in Brazil.
Although his team-mate beat him by just two points across 2012, over the course of their three seasons together Jenson notched up 672 points to Lewis Hamilton’s 657 – a great achievement given his compatriot’s pace.
"Lewis is the fastest team-mate I’ve been up against," admitted Jenson that year. "Rubens Barrichello could sometimes pull it out of the bag in qualifying and be quick over one lap, but Lewis does that pretty much every qualifying session and he’s also very competitive during the race. A lot of drivers would say that Lewis is the worst possible team-mate to have because he is so fast, but I find that exciting, it pushes me forwards."
Jenson achieved another landmark at the end of the 2013 season, eclipsing David Coulthard’s record of 246 starts, to become the most experienced British driver in the 63-year history of the Formula 1 world championship.
To commemorate the feat, Jenson returned to his home town of Frome to drive his McLaren through the streets. In front of the crowds he turned on the town’s Christmas lights to celebratory cheers. It was a poignant reminder of where the Jenson Button story all started. The young boy who unwrapped that first kart from his dad on Christmas morning, 25 years ago…