While it’s incredibly been over twelve years ago, it feels like yesterday that a fresh-faced 20-year-old called Jenson Button was announced as Williams’ surprise signing for its 2000 championship season. And yet, already, Jenson Button is turning 32 today…
Few F1 drivers have made it to the top echelon of motorsport with quite as much fanfare and a media frenzy as the youngster from Frome, who’d just finished third in the British Formula 3 championship after a stellar build-up in karts and Formula Ford.
And while Button would be making his F1 debut for Williams, he’d already been run by McLaren and Prost – his outing with the former coming off the back of winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
Despite some initial concern that he might struggle with just two years of car racing behind him, Button acquitted himself extremely well in his maiden season, and it was with some reluctance that Williams had to relinquish him to Renault for 2001, the team having already committed to running Juan Pablo Montoya alongside Ralf Schumacher for the following year.
His two years with the French outfit were disappointing, with the 2001 season dogged by a bad car and justified criticism that he was more interested in living the playboy life than in furthering his F1 prospects.
A more mature Button was on display in 2002, and he picked up seven points’ finished to outscore team-mate Jarno Trulli by the end of the season.
For the 2003, he joined the BAR Honda outfit as team-mate to Jacques Villeneuve. questions about his fragility were seemingly put to rest when he comprehensively blew the doors off the 1997 World Champion, and Villeneuve was gone before the end of the year.
With Button as de facto team leader for 2004, he enjoyed his best year to-date, claiming ten podium finishes all up, finishing third overall behind the all-conquering Ferraris.
The next two seasons were courted in some controversy as Williams and BAR/Honda fought over his services, but the Contract Recognition Board’s separate rulings that he remain at Brackley proved to work in his favour, and he claimed his long-awaited maiden with a fine wet-weather drive at Hungary in 2006.
But the 2007 and 2008 years with Honda were dreadful, with the team producing two shocking cars that no amount of refinement could cure; he picked just nine points across the two seasons.
With former Ferrari guru Ross Brawn having joined the team in late 2007, things were starting to look up until Honda decided it was going to pull the pin on its F1 operation. A last-minute buyout by Brawn and some investors saved the team, and it made a last-minute switch to Mercedes power, fielding its near-sponsorless BGP001 for the 2009 season.
The car was astonishingly quick, and Button had claimed six victories before the first half of the year was over. But development (and Button’s form) seemed to stall as the year wore on, and it was by stealth rather than speed that he won the championship title, taking his number 1 stickers to McLaren for 2010.
Two seasons at Woking have, if anything, showed Button to be an even better driver than he was during his title-winning year in 2009. In all, he’s claimed five wins for the team, and more recently showed himself to have the measure over team-mate Lewis Hamilton.