It took Jenson Button six years to grab his maiden win in Formula One, since then he’s gone on to win a total of 15 Grand Prix for three different teams and one glorious world championship in 2009. The Frome born charger has won some terrific races, but which ones stood out over the rest? Badger GP finds out!
Hungary, Budapest 2006
The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend of 2006 started out terribly for Jenson Button. His car sat in flames at the side of the track in free practice leading to his Honda team changing his engine ahead of qualifying, and the Englishman would get a ten place grid drop at the end of the session. Winning the race just wasn’t something to think about at this stage. Button eventually lined up on Sunday in 14th place. Luckily for him title contenders Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher also started well down the order thanks to their own grid penalties.
The race started in very damp conditions,with the spray making visibility incredibly poor in the midfield. Button thrives in these kinds of conditions and he gingerly, yet cleverly, worked his way up the order early on, looking after his tyres and staying out of trouble. As the rest began to struggle on worn tyres Button made his way by Giancarlo Fisichella, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher in quick succession, before Kimi Raikkonen slammed into the back of a Toro Rosso calling out the Safety Car. Button chose not to pit for fresh tyres at this stage and that allowed him to jump up all the way to second place behind leader Fernando Alonso.
The race looked to be Alonso’s after Button had to pit for fuel and dry tyres soon after the restart. There was one last twist in the tail though as Alonso squirmed around upon coming out of the pits for his final stop, his car clearly in trouble thanks to a loose wheelnut, and a few corners later he speared off into the barrier damaging the rear beyond repair. Button sailed off into the lead and won his first Grand Prix after a relentless drive. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
China, Shanghai 2010
Most seemed to view Button’s move to McLaren in 2010, alongside Lewis Hamilton, to be a hugely risky move for the reigning world champion. They couldn’t see him beating Hamilton in what was seen as Hamilton’s team. Yet Button drew first blood by winning in Australia and he went on to out-qualify his team-mate for the Chinese Grand Prix.
The race started off in dry conditions but rain was approaching the track quickly. Fernando Alonso had led from the Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, but a jump start soon saw him removed from contention, while Button had an average start and pretty much stayed where he started. A shower passed over the track in the middle of a Safety Car period but Nico Rosberg, Button and a couple of other runners chose to stay out on their dry tyres for the time being which leapfrogged them to the top of the standings.
The rain stayed light and it became clear it simply wasn’t quite wet enough for the intermediate tyre yet, all those who had switched were forced back in for a new set of dry Bridgestones and Button gained huge track time as a result. The rain did eventually arrive and it chucked it down making sure the entire field pitted for inters. Rosberg still led from Button, but a mistake from the German at the back of the circuit saw Button blitz past him until another Safety Car period wiped out the current world champion’s lead to nothing.
There was controversy on the restart when Button bunched up the field going into the final hairpin leaving Mark Webber off the track and tumbling down the order. Increasing wet conditions saw Button simply ease away from the field upon the restart again, he wasn’t the fastest on track but he paced himself without taking unnecessary risk wonderfully to take his second win for McLaren, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was well known for being brilliant in the wet himself, so for Button to completely eclipse him in the same car was remarkable indeed. Button 2 – 0 Hamilton.
Canada, Montreal 2011
Four hours and four minutes. That’s the official running time for the Canadian Grand Prix of 2011. It all began behind a Safety Car thanks to mountains of spray thrown up on a fairly wet track with Sebastian Vettel leading the field in his Red Bull. Button was down in 5th place, and would slip to 7th after running off track and losing places to Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.
Lap 7 saw Hamilton run wide after botching a move on Schumacher and it gave Button a run on him down the start-finish straight. Button cut across on Hamilton believing he had already completed the move but Hamilton’s car was still slightly alongside his McLaren team-mate’s and it resulted in Hamilton’s car slamming into the pit wall, damaging his left rear wheel beyond repair. The second Safety Car of the day was thrown and Button immediately came in for a set of intermediate tyres. Unfortunately for him he also sped while under the Safety Car was was given a drive through penalty that dropped him to 15th place. Torrential rain a short time later saw the race red flagged for over two hours.
The entire field restarted on the full wet tyre, Button came in for inters on lap 36 and found himself battling with Fernando Alonso upon leaving the pits. The pair collided into T3 leaving Alonso beached on a kerb and Button with a puncture. Another Safety Car was called out and Button rejoined after his puncture in last place.
He had nothing to lose by this stage and so set about driving the race of his life. Lap 44 and Button was already in 14th, lap 46 and he was in the points in 10th and by lap 56 he was now on dry tyres and 4th. An incredible sixth Safety Car of the race helped Button close up on the top three, Sebastian Vettel still led the race with Michael Schumacher in 2nd and Mark Webber in 3rd.
Button chased them all down after the restart, first passing Schumacher, and then Webber, in quick succession before setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 69, putting bags of pressure on Vettel. The young German led by under a second as the final lap began and the crowd couldn’t believe their eyes when he slid off at Turn 6, gifting Button the lead and a historic victory.
From 21st and last to first in less than 30 laps. Epic.
Japan, Suzuka 2011
2011 was perhaps Jenson Button’s best ever season in Formula One. First he won in Canada in sublime fashion, then he grabbed another win in Hungary – the scene of his 200th grand prix – before getting his hat-trick around the notoriously difficult to master Suzuka track in Japan.
He got his weekend off to a fantastic start by qualifying on the front row alongside the dominant Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel. Given Button was by now the only other driver, apart from Vettel, in with a chance at the title, it added some spice to the start of the race, spice that gave the German a bit of a kick later in the afternoon.
Jenson got a lightening start, challenging Vettel all the way down to the Esses, but the German pushed Button onto the grass in a risky move that led to some choice words between the two after the race. Button lost out to Hamilton, and dropped down to 3rd as a result. On lap 9 Button breezed by Hamilton after McLaren mistakingly thought the latter had a rear puncture, when in fact he had incredibly high tyre degradation.
A series of stunning lap times from Button prior to his second stop enabled him to leapfrog Vettel, and left the reigning world champion dumbfounded as to how he’d lost the lead. Button had been so easy on his tyres through the race, McLaren were in awe, since Hamilton was chewing his tyres alive early in the race. The smooth and silky style of Button’s driving was finally coming into it’s own in the new Pirelli era and he breezed over the line with a 1.1 second lead over Fernando Alonso, who had jumped Vettel after he had a slow out-lap. It was the first time Button had won a completely dry race in what was an inferior car to his main rival.
Belgium, Spa 2012
The Belgian Grand Prix weekend of 2012 potentially saw us witness Jenson Button at his very best. He strung together the perfect weekend, dominating his team-mate Lewis Hamilton and proved why he was a deserving of the title of world champion.
Qualifying saw Button take his first, and so far only, pole position for McLaren. He out-qualified Hamilton by a whopping 0.8 tenths of a second, and left Lewis totally bamboozled as to how he’d lost that much time.
The race was to be dry and sunny leaving Button open to attack from the field but he took on the challenge with aplomb. A huge start-line crash left him miles in front on lap 1, and despite a Safety Car to clear up the debris, no driver came close to him all afternoon. He pumped in purple sector after purple sector, pounding round Spa in such a smooth fashion it was hard to not watch and think “wow”.
To dominate in such a way on such a famous ‘driver’s circuit’ filled Button with enormous joy. Indeed the way he destroyed Hamilton on the Saturday and the way he dealt with the aftermath may have kickstarted Hamilton’s move to Mercedes. It really was a weekend Button will never forget, as he drove like a legend.