Jenson: Team leader
With Lewis Hamilton’s departure, Jenson eased into the position as the team’s reference point for 2013. Clearly, both he and the team enjoyed a very close relationship, and the Englishman was relishing his elevated status as he welcomed the arrival of his new team-mate, Mexico’s Sergio Perez.
Despite turning 33, Jenson’s preparations for a new season of grand prix racing proved that he was as fit as any of the young drivers entering the sport, including his new team-mate, nicknamed ‘Checo’.
Jenson was continuing to excel in his passion for triathlons and was competing in his own team ‘Ichiban’ (which translates as ‘Number One’).
That winter he trained in climates as diverse as The Philippines with high humidity and 38 degrees C, to Cannes in the south of France where temperatures were barely about zero and raining. “Those days,” he remarked, “hurt like hell…
“Triathlons are very similar to Formula 1,” he continued. “It’s the clock the whole time. When you look at the swim, bike, run and the transitions, it’s all about being as quick as you can on each of them. But there’s also the mental side of it. I’ve pushed myself through things I never thought I would. And I’ve been through pain that I never thought I would.”
That mental strength was important in a season where the McLaren MP4-28 wasn’t the strongest car on the grid. It was a chassis that lacked downforce and was heavy on tyre degradation, but despite the problems, Jenson enjoyed some close dices with his new team-mate, notably in Bahrain and Monaco. As the season wore on, Jenson also talked about his new responsibilities within the team.
“It’s a great feeling,” said the Briton. “People ask ‘is it a lot more pressure?’ and maybe it is. But I enjoy that. I enjoy knowing that my comments about the feeling of the car will really be listened to by the team.”
His senior status wasn’t just at McLaren, but was felt more widely in the sport as Jenson Button MBE became a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, alongside Sebastian Vettel.
Despite the lack of performance, there were many reasons to celebrate during 2013. At the Hungarian GP the Button family turned out in force to congratulate his father John who turned 70, and across that golden summer McLaren were commemorating their 50th anniversary.
There was another landmark achieved at the end of the year, as Jenson Button eclipsed David Coulthard’s record of 246 grand prix starts, making him the most experienced British driver in the 63-year history of the Formula 1 world championship.
To honour the achievement, he returned to his hometown of Frome to drive his McLaren through the streets, turning on the town’s Christmas lights to celebratory cheers. It was a poignant reminder of his roots and upbringing in Frome – exactly 25 years had past since he unwrapped that first kart given to him by his father on Christmas morning…
In January 2014 came the devastating news that John Button had died of a heart attack at the age of 70. Speaking at his memorial service at Goodwood House, Jenson was moved by the outpouring of emotion and the overwhelming popularity for his father from the Formula 1 community. At the 2014 British GP many fans wore ‘Pink For Papa’ shirts, Jenson himself changing the colour of his crash helmet to pink in memory of John’s favourite colour.
“Every race is emotional. I see a lot of pictures of him and it’s a strange feeling,” said Jenson later that year. “I’m sure we all have that feeling when we lose someone. Formula 1 is what he loved more than anything in his life and that gives me the feeling that I want to carry on racing for longer and longer because that is the connection I really had with my dad.”
It was all change for 2014 as he had another new team-mate in rookie Kevin Magnussen, a new boss in racing director Eric Boullier and a whole new set of engine regulations to contend with. Out went the 2.4-litre V8s, to be replaced with hybrid 1.6-litre V6 turbos.
It was a dream start to the year as the McLaren team scored a podium at the first race in Australia. Kevin took third place and Jenson fourth – which became second and third after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull was excluded.
Despite the strong start, sadly no team was able to get close to the dominant Mercedes team, and technical focus soon shifted to an all-new start in 2015. As the second oldest driver in the sport, the obvious questions about Button’s future were asked of him throughout the year, but he rebuffed the speculation: “It doesn’t matter, 2014 will be the same as any other year. If you do a good job, the team will want you for another year…”
And so it proved. In the final championship points table, Jenson finished eighth with 126 points, 71 more than his team-mate Kevin, who was 11th. At the end of 2014, McLaren confirmed that he would be staying at Woking for his sixth year at the team – and the start of an exciting new partnership.
“Having been with this team for so many years and having been through some tough times last year and a few this year, I’m really looking forward to the future,” said Jenson.
2015 will reunite Jenson with Honda, the Japanese manufacturer with which he took his first Formula 1 win back in 2006. It’s a neat fit for the experienced campaigner and, in his year of sorrow, there was some joy when he married his long-term partner Jessica in the new year.
Heading into 2015, Jenson was massively motivated, super-fit, even-tempered, very fast and back with two old allies: Honda and his former Benetton team-mate Fernando Alonso. He just can’t wait to get back behind the wheel for his 15th season in Formula 1…