When Jenson Button’s Mclaren slowed to a premature halt at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Formula 1 fans around the world sighed in dismay. It marked the end of a long and illustrious motor-racing career, and more importantly, the departure of one of the most popular drivers in the Formula 1 paddock.
Button has been in Formula 1 for the past 16 seasons (that’s 305 race starts — the third highest ever, and incidentally, just one less than Michael Schumacher). Understandably so, most of us cannot imagine the sport without Button.
The first win
Despite some dazzling results in junior racing, Button didn’t have it easy in Formula 1 during his early years with BMW Williams, Benneton and Williams. Formula 1 is a ruthless world, and critics were only too happy question Button’s driving abilities. It took him six seasons and 113 races to prove them wrong, when he clinched his first race victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006.
Button, zero to hero
Luck is a strange thing in Formula 1, as Button would discover after a strange sequence of events in 2008-09. Honda decided to quit Formula 1 after the 2008 season, thanks to a dismal show. Button was suddenly left in the lurch without a drive for 2009. Many thought this would be the end of the British driver, with analysts predicting that he would disappear to a midfield team or deflect to another racing championship. Ironically, the opposite happened. Ross Brawn bought out Honda and renamed the team Brawn GP. Button stayed on as a driver, reportedly taking a 50 percent pay cut. Amazingly enough, Brawn GP won the 2009 season (thank you, double diffuser). Button won six out of the first seven races and went on to be crowed World Champion.
Button’s best race
Button has always been highly regarded for his drives in the wet, especially his ability to plan tyre strategy — knowing when it is best to switch from wets to intermediates or dry and vice versa. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was the finest example of his driving skills, as Button clawed his way from the back grid all the way to P1 through the pouring rain and five pit-stops. This intense race was nearly five hours long — and prompted the FIA to impose a maximum time limit on races going forward.
What makes Button special?
Button is talented, but arguably there are more talented drivers on the grid. Sure he is a world champion, but there are others who have won the title many more times. So then what makes him so special?
It is worthy to dwell on this for a moment. In a lot of ways, Button was an embodiment of Formula 1 from its days of classic glory — before this era of Snapchat Champions and Shoey Podiums. He was one of those drivers who brought true character to the racetrack, with the approach of an absolute gentleman. Even as fans battled endlessly over their favourite drivers (Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton), Button was someone everyone loved unanimously. In fact, it is rumoured that Button’s contract extension for the last couple of seasons was because he was a marketer’s (and hence sponsor’s) dream come true.
Button’s retirement signifies the end of an era. Along with Felipe Massa, he leaves a large gaping hole on the grid, one that will not be filled for a long time. Even as we bid a tearful farewell, we are sure Button is already enjoying life away from the F1 circus (probably several pegs down and in high spirits). It seems likely that we will see him back in the paddock in 2017 as a commentator. All said and done, we are sure he will miss Formula 1 as much as Formula 1 will miss him.