2014 has been a difficult year for Jenson Button, following the sad passing of the much-loved John Button in January coming as a sad shock to fans, drivers, and team personnel alike. An average set of wheels hasn’t gone too far in lifting spirits either, with the MP4-29 at Jenson’s disposal offering nothing more than a couple of top five finishes thus far. But with Silverstone preparing to turn #PinkforPapa this weekend in memory of ‘Papa Smurf’, and in support of the Henry Surtees Foundation, we’ve taken a look at JB’s finest races, all of which were enjoyed by the forever-present John Button.
Button had to beat off stuff competition to get his break in Formula One, with F3000 frontrunner Bruno Junqueira posing the number one threat to JB’s step into a Williams hot seat. Having won that initial duel however, Button would have to impress from the get-go, most noticeably in only his second F1 race at Interlagos.
Button had qualified 9th, ahead of teammate Ralf Schumacher, and well within striking distance of the points paying positions. Following a good start, Button spent the race in close proximity to Ralf and the Supertec-powered Arrows of Jos Verstappen, eventually losing out to both come the end of the pit-stop window. With Ralf pulling clear in 5th, Button sat behind Jos and that elusive final-points position in 6th until lap 57, with the latter being undone by a well executed dive up the inside going into the Senna ‘S’. JB clinched the point come the chequered flag, and instantly announced himself as a star of the future. Not bad for a 20-year-old.
Fast forward a couple of years, past contract-wrangles, poor-machinery at Benetton and Renault, ‘lazy playboy’ accusations from Flavio Briatore, and public fall-outs with Jacques Villeneuve, and you arrive at Jenson’s first race win – the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix Until that race, Honda had endured a tough time of it that season, with an ultimately quick car being undermined by a mixture of poor reliability and bad luck. True to form, Hungary offered little difference come Saturday, with JB qualifying 14th following an inconvenient engine change. Race day proved much different however, with Button launching his Honda up to 4th in the opening laps on a damp circuit, and in the mix with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, and teammate Rubens Barrichello at the sharp end of proceedings. Following a safety car period in which Button chose to not pit, it was Honda vs Renault at the front with Alonso leading the way. Out of kilter with the rest of the field, JB soon had to pit leaving him 20+ seconds adrift of Alonso out front, yet ahead of the chasing pack. Alonso’s final stop proved pivotal, unlike his right-rear tyre, which hadn’t been fitted correctly. Alonso crashed, he was out, Button took the lead, and held the lead, eventually taking his first Formula One victory by over half a minute ahead of Pedro De La Rosa. Let it be said; the slow-mo footage of father and son embracing each other in Parc Ferme has gone down as on the most iconic scenes in the sport from the past 20 years.
Who can forget this one? The climax to a fairytale season for Brawn GP and Button, merely 12 months on from where both parties thought their time in the sport was up. Jenson went into Brazil very much on the back foot, with the aerodynamically superior and development-driven Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel breathing down both his, and teammate Rubens Barrichello’s, neck in the title race with two races to go. Button qualified 14th at Interlagos, with poor-tyre choice in a wet qualifying session to blame. Vettel started 17th, so all was far from lost. Barrichello, on the other hand, used his local knowledge to start from pole position. Come race day, JB drew a stormer, going from 14th to 9th on the opening lap, before taking Romain Grosjean around the outside of Turn 6, and Kazuki Nakajima up the inside going into Turn 1. From then on it was a race determined by strategy, with Button’s two-stop plan being overlooked by the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Vettel who would take the pits just once. Following JB’s second stop, he was 7th, although Vettel’s absence from the top two places ensured he would still be crowned champ should the race finish there. As it so happened, Jenson finished 5th, one place behind Vettel in 4th and uncatchable in the championship standings. The title was his with one round to go, and celebrated by a poor-rendition of ‘We are the Champions’ down the team radio. But we’ll overlook that one in the grand scheme of things.
Jenson made the shock decision to join McLaren for 2010, despite Brawn GP evolving into the factory Mercedes outfit during the winter. Nonetheless, JB soon put to bed all the theories about how he’d have to play second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton, winning in Australia at only the second time of asking. An even more impressive victory would come his way a few weeks later in Shanghai. Now, if ever there was a race to confirm JB’s superhuman powers in wet conditions, it was China 2010. It was wet, then dry, then kind of wet, and then really wet, but despite all of that the Brit pitted just once for new rubber, negotiating the havoc-strewn tarmac with ease out front, whilst others panicked and pitted hand over fist. The net result was a 1-2 for McLaren, their first since 2007 at the time, and a British lock-out at the top. Although truth be told, Button well and truly outshone Lewis. Vintage JB.
How could we not end with what was voted Sky Sports F1’s race of the century? Again, rain played a part, with the race starting behind the Safety Car. Shortly after the race start, McLaren suffered a nightmare with Hamilton running into Button on the pit straight, and in doing so bringing the safety car out once again. Hamilton retired with damage, and Button came in for intermediate tyres. Doubly bad was the speeding penalty Button then received, leaving him stone dead last way down in 15th place. With 26 laps left to run, Button began his charge, taking Pastor Maldonado and the Toro Rosso of Jamie Alguersuari immediately going into the final chicane. He then moved up to 4th during the ensuing pit stop window, as the field pitted for slicks at the drying Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve. Next up in the firing line for JB was Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher, both proving little resistance to the determined Brit. Then it was the turn of Sebastian Vettel. Turn 6, final lap, the German cracks. Button pounces, Button wins. 15th to 1st, in 26 glorious laps. Awesome.