Jenson: The McLaren drive
Ever since he was a child, Jenson Button had dreamt of winning the Formula 1 world championship. At the end of 2009 he’d achieved his lifetime’s ambition with Brawn GP, the outfit that had been formed from the ashes of the Honda F1 team. But soon after the season was over, the team came under new Mercedes ownership, and Jenson decided to look for a new challenge. The perfect fit for 2010 was McLaren – and, when he stepped into the McLaren Technology Centre for the first time, he was immediately impressed.
“I was amazed by the building itself and doubly impressed to see the history of cars on the boulevard that have won world championships in the past,” said Jenson.
“I started watching racing in the mid- to lat-1980s with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna driving for McLaren, and, for me, those were great times. I really wanted to be a part of that history and to work with this team.
“But what really impressed me was the inside of the factory, being shown mission control, the bays where the mechanics work, and the windtunnel – that’s what really excited me about joining this team. To race for McLaren was such an exciting chance, because they’ll always give you an opportunity to win a world championship.”
For 2010 McLaren-Mercedes would pair two world champions together to create an all-British dream team and one of the strongest driver line-ups in the sport. The Woking team unveiled Jenson – racing with the prestigious number 1 on his car – to partner the talented Lewis Hamilton.
The new relationship got off to a perfect start. At the second race of the season, Jenson drove brilliantly with a strategic tyre call in mixed weather conditions to win the Australian Grand Prix. Two races later in Shanghai, he was again spraying champagne from the top step of the rostrum.
“It was very important to win in Melbourne for me and for the team to see that I was quick but that I also had the confidence to make my own decisions,” said the new McLaren star. “That confidence comes with experience and also believing in yourself. I think a lot of that came from winning the title the previous season. It was a great race, a great victory and made me feel a big part of the team right from the beginning.”
Despite losing out to Lewis Hamilton over the course of 2010, that spurred Jenson on for the following season and he came back even stronger, comfortably beating Lewis to second place in the world championship with 270 points to Lewis’s 227.
With three of his greatest wins (in Canada, Hungary and Japan) and nine podiums, Jenson Button proved his status as one of the best drivers in the sport. His race in Montréal was arguably the best of his career, and certainly one of the most thrilling events of the past decade.
After an early coming-together with his team-mate, Jenson was forced to pit for repairs and he dropped to the tail of the field. But in his favourite conditions on a changeable wet/dry circuit, he started the comeback drive of a lifetime. In the closing laps, he was chasing down Sebastian Vettel for the win, pressuring the Red Bull driver into a mistake on the very last lap of the race. As Button passed the German to take a thrilling victory, the Canadian GP crowd went wild – and the celebrations continued long into the evening. Former McLaren chief engineer Paddy Lowe was presented with the constructors’ trophy on the podium that damp afternoon and has described it as one of the best races of his career.
Further success came later in 2011 culminating with an emotional win in Japan, just months after the devastating tsunami. That was a special moment for Jenson, because of his relationship with his Japanese girlfriend Jessica Michibata – his future wife.
“Suzuka was a different feeling,” remembers Jenson. “Because of Jessica and my feelings about Japan – it’s a county that I love. After the race, it was very emotional, particularly as over the last few laps I was running out of fuel, and I had Vettel and Alonso bearing down on me. I think emotionally that was the biggest win for me as it was very special to do it in front of the Japanese fans.”
In 2012, he again scooped another three victories – in Australia, a dominant drive at Spa-Francorchamps, and finally in Brazil.
With news that Hamilton was departing the McLaren family at the end of 2012, their three years together came to an end and JB was quick to praise his departing friend. “Lewis is the fastest team-mate I’ve been up against,” admitted Jenson that year. “Rubens Barrichello could sometimes pull it out of the bag in qualifying and be quick over one lap, but Lewis does that pretty much every qualifying session and he’s also very competitive during the race. A lot of drivers would say that Lewis is the worst possible team-mate to have because he is so fast, but I find that exciting, it pushes me forwards.”
Although Lewis beat him by just two points across 2012, over the course of their three seasons together Jenson notched up 672 points to Lewis’s 657 – a great achievement given his compatriot’s renowned ability. For 2013, Jenson’s stature was set to rise as he became the [i]de facto number one and would have to contend with a new team-mate…