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How Brawn has changed Button
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How Brawn has changed Button
Posted By:   |  28 Apr 2009   |  6:29 am GMT  |  49 comments

Jenson Button took his third win of the season on Sunday in fine style. This was a victory which demanded a great deal of care, because he didn’t have the fastest car out there on the day, not even on the qualifying day, even though the Brawn had appeared to have the legs of the others in Friday practice.
smiley-jenson-3-thumb1

He also had to be aggressive on the opening lap, to regain the place lost to Lewis Hamilton at the start. F1 fans around the world are now debating whether Button can capitalise on the superb start he has made to the first part of the season and win the world title. He will face a growing challenge from teams like McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, while Toyota and Red Bull are already on his pace.

But I sense a real difference about Jenson this year. I think that Ross Brawn has given him a greater sense of disclipline, not just in his driving, but in his life as a whole. And in that pass on Hamilton, he showed the importance of giving nothing away, something which characterised Michael Schumacher’s driving and Ross Brawn’s whole approach to racing.

Button has always had a great talent and a uniquely smooth style. And when he started, he learned the F1 ropes pretty quickly, let’s not forget that this is the man, who at the age of 20, on his first visit to Spa, pointed out to the FIA’s Charlie Whiting that the 100 metre braking board was in the wrong place on the approach to La Source hairpin. They measured it and found he was correct.

So, behind this rather laid-back facade, a sympathy for precision and discipline has always been there, but many years in bad cars had rather blunted the edge. Also the same lack of discipline and leadership in the technical department at Honda, which caused them to misfire, has been transformed under Brawn’s leadership.

I’ll give you a small example, every time Button enters the pits during practice he drives into his pit box, with the mechanics in the positions they would be in for a pit stop. He comes in and stops in position. But that is not where it ends, there is a brief pause on the radio and then Andrew Shovlin, Button’s race engineer will say, “Ten centimetres out.”

There is no further comment, no response from Jenson.

Sometimes he comes in and you will hear Brawn himself say, “Perfect position Jenson.”

It matters because it means that when he stops for real in the race, the refuellers will be able to do their job more easily and the stop will be faster. This is what you call taking care of the details and it is the hallmark of Ross Brawn, honed over many years together with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The ethos at Ferrari was that everyone had to give 100% all the time and if they each counted on each other to do that, they would be successful. It has undoubtedly sharpened up Button’s racecraft. He seems very on top of every aspect of the game at the moment.

“I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win, ” Ross said on Saturday. “The way he is driving, that part is taken care of.

“It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pit stops, the strategies, and make sure the car is reliable.”

His personal life has been rather chaotic for much of his F1 career, you recall the dithering over moves back to Williams and the odd situation where he had to buy himself out of his contract. Now after a few years under Richard Goddard’s management that side of his life seems to have settled down and become more under control. There is a unity of purpose about every aspect of his life. I’ve seen it before in racing drivers, when they get into a position to win races and championships, they get into the ‘zone’.

Button is in the zone now.

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49 Comments
  1. martin says:

    I always thought Button was a forgotten talent. His performance in his early career (FF, F3 and Williams) was no fluke and maybe now everyone is starting to remember this promise. I say good luck to him for the championship.

  2. Yeah, Button’s really won me over this year. He has the makings of a champion – he just needs to keep driving like one and I think he will do it this year!

    Brawn is a genius and Ferrari must really miss him… Contrast Brawn with Toyota, two very fast drivers and the better car in Bahrain, yet they seemed to try their very best to lose the race!

  3. Andrew says:

    This rather connects with what Anthony Davidson said: that during the pass on Lewis Jenson had figured out that Lewis had no more Kers boost, and wouldn’t get more until he crossed the line, at which point the extra power wouldn’t be beneficial enough to compensate.

  4. kenny says:

    Great piece James. Jenson has caught a lot of flak over the years (some justified, I think) whille being stuck on teams going nowhere. Now he’s got the equipmemt and the support and he’s doing the business. Good on him.

    The question is, where’s Rubens? Last year he made Jenson look silly sometimes, and he put in one or two great runs in a dog of a car. This year he’s nowhere compared to Jenson. Is he trying too hard? Is the team favoring Button? What’s going on?

    Can you give us your thoughts on this?

  5. Martin says:

    All of the above and he’s beaten Rubens four times in a row.

    I remember thinking that when he got the drive after finishing third in his first year of British F3, that in part he got the Williams drive because he was British. Since then he has got to the point where he is an excellent driver of the Brawn. Would he be as effective in a Red Bull, which obviously uses its tyres in a different way? Was last year only a motivation issue, or does he lack some adaptability?

  6. Phil says:

    I’ve always thought he is an incredibly talented driver but this year he seems more personable too. Not sure he can wring a great performance from an average car though. It all seems a bit “text book” to me. Perfectly smooth, driving by the numbers but he hasn’t demonstrated genius yet.
    Good luck to him for the rest of the season though

  7. *Paul_W* says:

    It makes me wonder if Jenson had been given the opportunity that Hamilton has had (i.e. given the best car for two seasons on the trot) if the media would have raved about his performances and skill.

    So far this season Jenson has done a fantastic job. He’s had the fastest car in two of the four races and and come home with 3 wins and a third place. That’s an excellent return in anyones book. If he can win another couple of races I think he’ll be in with a fabulous shout this year.

  8. Damian Byrne says:

    Jenson’s has always had the talent. You don’t put a car third on the grid in your first season at Spa, oh, and out qualify Michael Schumacher, in to the bargain, without knowing a thing or two about driving a racing car. Not to mention qualifying sixth at Suzuka, another drivers circuit, first time out. No, it’s always been there. With the right conditions; car, personnel (chiefly Ross Brawn) and attitude, we’re seeing what we’ve long suspected, and hoped for – a champion in the making.
    There’s a long way to go however, and when the likes of Mclaren start snapping at their heels, that’s when we’ll see what Jenson’s really made of.

  9. Facchetti says:

    Nice insight. In a season where margins are so very tight, the pursuit of excellence is bound to be exhaustive and relentless.

    People whose self-discipline and attention to detail carries through into their own private lives generate a precious commodity — more time — time to focus on essentials, to see the angle, take the decision.

    And this shows on the pit wall too, where Brawn can give the impression of working in slow motion, relative to the rest of the team managers. When with Ferrari, his relaxed demeanour could give the impression that his race-winning calls were little more than spontaneous “no-brainers”. We certainly know better.

    I am delighted for Button that he has the opportunity to demonstrate just how good he can be. And delighted for British fans, too. I am reminded of the impact that another master of detail and self-discipline, Fabio Capello, has had on a group of well-paid wannabes in another sport.

    Good story. Thanks.

  10. Colin S says:

    Another excellent item. It’s what I come here for instead of yet more regurgitated press releases and stats. Fantastic insight into Ross Brawns working practices and how one man genuinely is able to influence and change the entire outlook of a whole team.

    Particularly interesting also was the comment he made on TV in the red button forum that the team was already full of solid engineers and that his fault list from the first test session was much smaller than he expected.

    It’s clear Honda was already a tight team in many respects, and it’s just taken a little extra effort to create winners.

    Nick Fry has been conspicuously absent recently. Any news on his role, James?

  11. adrian says:

    Jenson has spent 2 years with his massive talent crippled by appalling cars.

    This whole Ross Brawn has transformed Button is rubbish. Cf. “To put Button’s success down to the excellence of this year’s Brawn car is to grossly under-estimate his talent.” (Mark Hughes) whose analysis is compelling – http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8022027.stm What has transformed Button is at last having a car which he can work with rather than against.

    Button is *the* stand-out driver in the wet and has been consistently so for many years. Only in 2004 and 2005 has he had a decent enough car to show his real pace in the dry. Imola 2004 stands out in my memory – Schumacher ‘he set a mind blowing pace – it was a though I was driving in the wet and he was in the dry’: “‘Jenson was unreal, he was unbelievable”; Montoya.

  12. Finn says:

    From the outside, it seems that Brawn’s primary focus is with Button …. the de facto No 1. Is that right? Is Rubens there to make up the numbers, score some points, and use his experience to bolster the team and JB? Or is Rubens there with a real shout to win races and fight for the championship in his own right?

  13. Andy Vandervell says:

    People often cite last season against Jenson, but they seem to forget the season before where he drove the wheels off another crap Honda car and out-raced and pointed Rubens through to the end of the season.

  14. Geoff Thomas says:

    Really interesting stuff – and an excellent article. I believe that Jenson is more than capable of winning the championship on merit – you only have to see what people who knew him before he got his big break thought/think to realise that he’s a fantastic talent, very gentle on the car but blisteringly fast and determined when necessary. In his early F1 days I remember him spinning on the warming-up lap – at Monza I think – and after that he seldom made a mistake in practice, qualifying or the race. Granted his management was chaotic and the ‘red-tops’ cottoned onto him as a playboy. But make no mistake, he knows how to win now and we’re seeing a new Jenson who’s actually the same as the old one…but with that extra ingredient of success! I think that it’s impossible to judge him on the Honda years – other than to point out that when the car was capable of being anything more than being an ‘also ran’ Jenson scored points with it and even won at the Hungaroring in appalling conditions. Last year’s car was a total dog. We should be proud of the fact that Jenson is not only British – but someone who comes over well on TV without whingeing and whining. He’ll be a great ambassador for the sport and fits in well with the Branson ethos too. I predict a multi-year partnership with Brawn and the possibility of multi-championships too, given a fair wind.
    Geoff Thomas

  15. John says:

    Jenson is a phenomenal talent and always has been. Unfortunately hes wasted alot of years in uncompetetive cars… perhaps even too many…

  16. jose says:

    Three wins out of four. Good performance. This is world champion standards. In baharein, we saw his best race to date.
    You are destroying barrichello, like schumacher did,
    but vettel and hamilton won`t be that easy.
    Jenson, we are watching you.
    It is up to you, how history will be written in 09.

  17. Tom Cawley says:

    There’s a great article about Jenson by Mark Hughes on the BBC website today which makes a lot of great points and actually complements James’s piece quite well.
    I have to say, I’m so happy to see how it’s going this season. I’ve been waiting a long time for this; I had probably even given up on thinking he’d ever get a chance. His touch has always been phenomenal, his race pace always consistent and throughout his career there have been those moments of genius where he’s blown people away. Didn’t he fool everyone into going out on the wrong tyres at the US race in his first season?
    Anyway, it seems as though his enormous talent will not, after all, be consigned to the bin marked ‘what if’. I hope Brawn can keep the car on the pace this season and Jenson can win the title he’s always promised.

  18. Chris says:

    I always remember Hamilton saying to Button at the end of a race last season “You had your chance”, before Hamilton went up on the podium to smugly take 1st place.

    At the time I thought it was extremely arrogant coming from a kid who had walked into a team that had a fantastic championship winning car, which is something Jenson has never had the chance to drive.

    The start to this new season and the pass on Hamilton in Bahrain has certainly made Hamilton eat his words and I think it just goes to show that bar a few, every racer on the circuit is capable of winning races given the right car and team.

    I believe Lewis got caught up in his own hype as a driver and forget that it was the car and team handing him success on a plate when he made that stinging comment to Jenson (who laughed it off at the time).

    I hope the Brawn’s success continues and Jenson get’s to build on the perfect start to the season.

  19. John of Woking says:

    I agree Jenson is driving brilliantly this year, he’ll be WDC for sure. His head is definitely up this year and I’m sure Ross has influenced that but I’m not so sure he’s changed as much as you may think. Looking back at his races between 2003-06 his performances were sublime, he would have been winning a lot of races back then had it not been for the stupidly strong Ferrari.

  20. Richard says:

    I always thought Webber was a bit like this but I’m beginning to wonder now – he seemed to have so much promise when he first started in F1.

    Very pleased for Button though – he’s doing a great job. Glad Ross has bought some magic to the team. Would have been rubbish if Button and Barichello ended their F1 careers that way.

  21. Alex says:

    Chris, please justify this assertion with some evidence. I don’t recall such an incident. In fact i don’t recall button being on the podium last year, how would such an interaction ever have taken place.

  22. guy says:

    There is also a good piece on jenson by Mark Hughes on the bbc website.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8022027.stm

    Seems to me that Hamilton, schumacher, Alonso are the ‘complete’ drivers – but in the ‘best’ car button would be just as quick (but as such maybe not as adaptable?).

    Perhaps vettel can be added to the ‘complete’ list too – but he must first show he can still perform under extreme pressure – ie not just when he is expected to win but when there is a championship at stake?

  23. Jonathan says:

    James.
    Great commentary on a great web-site.
    Keep it coming. Thanks.

  24. Hamlet says:

    James – another really interesting piece, thanks

    I don’t doubt that Brawn or Team Brawn has raised Jenson’s game a notch, but isn’t it all rather simplistic when we’re still to see him put under pressure by a faster car, especially someone relentless like Lewis or Fernando

    Whilst I’m delighted for him this season, there are – for me – a few too many cases in previous races of Jenson not being the hardest fella to get past. I assume that this element of ‘mental toughness’ will get some attention by the team.

    However, what I am curious about is the feeling in the paddock about the Jenson of 2009 after 4 races? Are the older wags recalling the ‘lost wins’ of 2004 (Imola vs MS) and moves on him which a JV or Alonso would never have let stick in a month of Sundays?

  25. Stevie P says:

    Jenson and his advisors, know that this may be his last chance to capitalise upon his talent… that tends to focus the mind.

    After being told for several years Honda was the way to go, it seemed to have back-fired for him. BAR looked good for a time, but lost their way as Honda took more and more control. It can only have been demoralising for Jenson watching their cars get worse; whilst others got better.

    [I can see Rosberg suffering from this... as Williams move backwards this season (again!), as others develop beyond them.]

    With some maturity on his side (an evolution, rather than a direct change initiated by Brawn) and the car coming good… it’s time to make hay whilst the sun shines [ok, not the greatest metaphor considering how much rain we've had at the races ;-)]

    This season just gets better and better… we have the “unusual suspects” at the front, doing a good job; whilst the “usual suspects” are starting to close in…

    Can they catch them? Can the others stay ahead? Where are BMW? Will teams that have said they’re not going to use KERS, suddenly do a u-turn? So many questions…!!

    Looking forward to seeing the answers… :-)

    Peace.

  26. PaulL says:

    I’m still not convinced he’s on the same level as the elite in F1. I still think the Brawn has up to 3 tenths on the next best car in race trim.
    Reading Mansell’s autobiography, he seemed quite skeptical as to whether the textbook smooth style of driving is the fastest way around a racing circuit.

    His move on Hamilton however was a distinct improvement over some of his previous race crafts.

  27. Daniel says:

    Great insight, James. Your articles have always been top stuff.

  28. LeighJW says:

    This article (and the Mark Hughes piece) gives a great insight into JB.

    Jenson is a driver that looked “made for F1″ as soon as he put his bum in the car ten years ago. However, as he will have discovered during his lean years, you also need the right car and a good measure of luck.

    He has the car (so far) but will he get the luck?

    I hope so.

  29. EC says:

    Nice piece, Mr. Allen. You could be the successor to Rob Walker I’ve wished for over the years since his departure.

    It’s clear winning in F1 these days requires a good car, a good driver, and a good team. Absent any of those elements, the chances for success are significantly reduced, as is evident with the current results of teams which were dominant in the recent past.

    Button has “paid his dues”, and I for one would like to see Button and Brawn win the championship, not because they “deserve” it, but because they have so
    far earned their position in a manner which speaks of
    intelligence, perseverance, and class. Formula 1
    could use more of this.

  30. Leo Allen says:

    Another excellent examination of a driver coming into his own, James. This site has to be first call every time I look for the real deal on F1.

    What a season this is developing into ! Barcelona is going to get really spicy. And then there’s Monaco and Spa …bloody marvellous !

    Loads of people are trying to predict the outcome of this season. They must be out of their skulls ! There must be at least six drivers who could win this years WDC !

    Wow !

  31. Lee Gilbert says:

    Jenson is the Chris Amon of F1

    He has often been his worst enemy – remind yourself of his bad career choices and how he has not managed his PR well in teh paddock.

    Yes I do genuinely think he is the smoothest driver on the current grid – Jackie Stewart-esque. He gets the most from his tyres and that will bode well this year

    Do I think he will win the WDC….. hmmm

    We will probably know around the time of Silverstone. By then, we’ll know the status of the ‘B’ spec car grid – post Barcelona. We’ll also have had Monaco which is a real driver leveller – and gives good indicator to driver form

    Then the car potential and the driver form combination will be more predicatable – at the moment its too difficult to predict.

  32. Antonio Carlos says:

    Hello again, James.

    Nice post. Jenson is really ready for the WDC. He is more consistent and faster than any other driver at this moment.

    But I have a little request for you.

    I have no doubt that Jenson and Rubens are driving under same conditions, But many brazilians (not me) believe he is an very outdated driver, calling him “slow driver”, “turtle”…

    A couple of days ago his website was hacked. He is very unpopular here. But I still support him.

    So, if possible, could you draw some lines about how Rubens are evaluated outside Brazil? I will translate to my contrymen, with your permission.

  33. Paul Douglas says:

    I’m not sure I understand what those of you saying Jenson has yet to win against someone in an as quick or quicker car. The Brawn was the second or third fastest car in Bahrain as a result of compromises made for the sake of cooling.

  34. ROBATCLAXBY says:

    Thank you James for an interesting, intellectual, insight into F1. And also for creating a forum with sensible replies (90%)of the time, without the childish pedantic sensless drivel that most other sites provide, it’s always a pleasure to come on here an learn something new, journalism at it’s best every day of the week. AND FOR FREE.! ! !So once again THANKS.

  35. I look around your site quite often but this is my first post, I must say a great job on the site its great to have some ears to ground on the inside. Jenson always has been a fantastic driver but never really had the machinary to match his ambition. As you mention the last few years seem to had blunted his enthusiam but Ross seems to have re instilled that drive and determination to win. Jenson is the very reason I started to support BAR, then Honda and now BGP as I love his fluid style.

  36. Dermot Keelan says:

    In relation to last years performance you cannot blame Jenson for lacking a bit of motivation. Here was a very talented guy who could see his best years possibly slipping by. Obviously having Ross at the helm has had an extremely positive effect. Ross Brawn is a shining example of what an excellent manager should be.

    Everything in Ross’ management system and style is all about guiding everyone around him towards the ultimate goal in a cohesive way right down to the most minute of details. The dysfunction of the Honda management appears already to be ancient history.

    This appears to have had a greater effect on Jenson rather than Rubens who already had worked with Brawn at Ferrari maybe this is why Jenson has had a slight edge on Rubens so far this year…

  37. James Allen says:

    Finn, I see nothing there to make me feel that Jenson is being favoured, I’m sure that Rubens has the same rquirements made of him, Rubens had a chance in China, where he outqualified JB. I’m sure he’ll have another. Jenson just seems to be more consistent.

  38. Prancer says:

    I think anyone hoping that Rubens will win the title is mistaken.
    Rubens entire racing career has been based on solid performances with flashes of genius. Even on a bad day Rubens can be pretty much guaranteed to bring the car home.He never disappears as Fisi and Trulli (and more recently it appears Heikki) for example do.
    And on a good day he can take on any driver in the world and beat them (as a Ferrari fan I am biased but if you can beat Schumi I argue you can beat any driver in the world).
    But he has never performed at that higher level with any consistency at any point in his career.
    So yes, while I won’t be surprised if Jenson is staring at the rear wing of another Brawn round the streets in Monaco (or has his plans for a Glorious Homecoming at Silverstone somewhat overshadowed!) I simply can’t see Rubens challenging him over the course of a season.

  39. James Allen says:

    Adrian, I’m not talking about the car in my piece, I’m talking about mentality

  40. Clackers says:

    Nice quotes adrian, but I am afraid, Imola 2004 was completely dry. In fact, Button has not driven a damp race at Imola in his career, AFAIK.

    Can you tell us where those quotes came from specifically?

  41. James Allen says:

    Nick has not been at a race since Australia. But he’s very much still there, I’m told. His role is back at base and not least getting some stickers on the cars…

  42. Grabyrdy says:

    “Perfectly smooth” yes. Therefore “driving by the numbers” eh ? I don’t begin to see the relation between the two phrases. Smoothness comes from perfect control and superior anticipation. Nothing to do with numbers, mate.

  43. Colin S says:

    To be fair, I think the impression it is all about Button is real but it is just that – an impression. Button is the one getting the job done and because the press like winners and underdogs, and because most of what we read in the UK is British press talking about British interests.

    I have no doubt though that, as you say, Rubens is being given equal opportunity to show his quality.

  44. Sinker says:

    But poor old Rubens is still using a damaged front wing from Australia. I’m sure it won’t make that much difference, but it’ll make some…

  45. Finn says:

    Thanks, James.

    Does that imply Ross isn’t having the same level of impact on Rubens? Or that Rubens is just not up to speed yet this season? Or that Jenson is simply a better driver than Rubens come what may?

    Rubens has always been a driver capable of wining races in the right car …. but it seems there is an ultimate performance gap at the moment between him and JB. If there is nothing to suggest Jenson is being favoured, then what do you think Rubens’ lack of consistency is down to? Level of talent or lack of preparedness? Rubens was on the ‘outside’ a lot of the time over the winter …. even if the team didn’t go testing. Is the car just better suited to Jenson?

    Do you see this as probably being Rubens’ last season?

    Cheers!

  46. shaun says:

    Did Lewis really say that, that is shocking. I stand by him in most of the flak he gets but that is below the belt. Theovertake must have been especailly sweet.

    What I like about JB is he still has the easy going nature. After the win in Oz he I read a report about how he kept the press waiting and then appeared from a room with his girlfriend and apologised to the press saying something along the lines of ‘it got a bit steamy in there’

    Hopefully this is the same reason he was late for the post race meeting with engineers in Bahrain :-D

  47. Dougal says:

    “I always remember Hamilton saying to Button at the end of a race last season “You had your chance”, before Hamilton went up on the podium to smugly take 1st place.”

    Source, please ?

  48. James says:

    Can you give us a source for this assertion about Hamilton?

  49. bodmonk says:

    Clackers …

    Try reading Adrian’s last paragraph again perhaps.

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