From an early age, McLaren driver Jenson Button showed the potential to realise his dream of driving in Formula 1 and one day becoming World Drivers’ Champion.
Jenson Button – the early years
Jenson began his racing career on the karting track, as the majority of drivers do, and achieved instant success. Winning the British Super Prix in 1989, aged nine, was just the beginning. In 1991, he won all 34 races of the British Cadet Kart Championship before becoming Junior TKM Champion a year later.
Further successes followed until Jenson became the youngest driver ever to win the European Super A Championship, aged just 17. The following year he moved to cars and won the British Formula Ford Championship, which helped him win the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
He then secured a race seat in the British Formula 3 Championship in 1999 and finished third in his first year. Also that year, as part of his prize for winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award, he had the opportunity to drive a McLaren F1 car. Little did he know it, it would not be the last time Jenson jumped into a McLaren F1 cockpit.
Jenson’s arrival into Formula 1
Jenson got his big break in Formula 1 in 2000 with Williams, and became the youngest British driver ever to start an F1 race in Australia, aged just 20 years and 53 days. That year, he produced some standout performances including finishing fourth at the chaotic German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, in addition to stunning the Formula 1 paddock by qualifying third for the Belgian Grand Prix.
After being loaned to Benetton for two years (although the team became Renault in 2002), Button joined British American Racing in 2003, where he immediately made his mark by outscoring his championship-winning team-mate Jacques Villeneuve by 17 points to six.
Button managed his first F1 podium in Malaysia in 2004, the first of 10 that season which meant he finished third in the Drivers’ Championship.
However Jenson’s breakthrough year was 2006. He drove brilliantly at the Hungarian Grand Prix to take his maiden win after starting down in 14th place.
2007 and 2008 were more testing seasons for Jenson and it was not sure whether he would be racing in 2009 due to Honda’s decision to cease involvement in the sport. The team was saved just a few weeks before the start of the season and renamed Brawn GP.
After winning six of the first seven races, he continued to secure strong points-scoring finishes to realise his dream and become World Drivers’ Champion.
Jenson Button at McLaren
The following year he won the Canadian Grand Prix in spectacular fashion, contending with a sodden Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, six safety car periods and having to fight through the field three times to take one of the all-time greatest F1 victories.
He won further races in 2011 in Hungary and Japan to finish second in the World Drivers’ Championship and achieved similar success in 2012, winning in Australia, Belgium and Brazil.
At McLaren Honda, he has played a critical part in developing and improving the technical package across its tricky first two seasons. From the cockpit, his experience, insight and feedback was unrivalled, and gave the team’s engineers and designers crucial cues from which to develop the car.
In 2017, he is continuing in this role, but – crucially – will no longer do it as an active grand prix driver. For the first time in 17 years, Jenson isn't on the Formula 1 grid, choosing instead to step away from the cockpit to act as an advisor and observer for the team.
In his currrent role, he works in the MTC simulator, talks with drivers and engineers, and attends a handful of grands prix in order to remain calibrated and wired-in to the team. Replacing the all-encompassing buzz of Formula 1 will not be straightforward – as any outgoing grand prix driver will attest – but Jenson remains a key part of McLaren Honda in 2017, a role which should ease him through this transitional element of his incredible career.
The Jenson Button Trust
Held in high esteem by his fellow F1 drivers, Jenson also dedicates time away from the circuit to help charities. In 2010, he set up the Jenson Button Trust, which supports and fundraises for charitable causes and campaigns close to his heart. He is therefore highly regarded throughout the sporting world not only for his motor racing achievements but also for trying to help those who need it most.