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Button pulls the trigger on Brawn, now he has to beat Hamilton
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Button pulls the trigger on Brawn, now he has to beat Hamilton
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Nov 2009   |  3:41 pm GMT  |  368 comments

Jenson Button has done what he threatened to do; quit the team he won the championship with and launched a new adventure with McLaren.

Button has a three year contract to race alongside Lewis Hamilton in an all British “World Champions” superteam.

Everyone at the Brawn team in Brackley will be disappointed by this and there will be lots of question marks about loyalty and “feeling valued” swimming around on both sides. But at the end of the day Button has gone because Brawn and Mercedes were prepared to let him – and that says quite a lot.

Button - wanted to feel "valued" (Photo: Darren Heath)
The timing is hugely significant here. From McLaren’s point of view it is a much needed positive on a week when it was effectively divorced from it’s long term partner of 15 years and it really takes the shine off Mercedes’ big moment of announcing its own team with Brawn. They are now facing up to running Rosberg and Heidfeld next season, a line-up which will fill no-one with dread.

Button’s timing is less obvious. He is leaving a team which won the title on a wing and a prayer this season at the moment when it is about to become one of the great powerhouses of F1. In Ross Brawn, Mercedes feel they have a technical leader who can bring them the kind of domination they enjoyed in the 1950s. Brawn is also well set up to adapt to the new F1, under the resource restriction agreement, whereby teams will have to carry smaller staff numbers and will only be able to take 45 people to Grands Prix.

No-one should underestimate McLaren, however and it may well be that next year’s car is the fastest in the field. After all, they have excellent engineering strength in depth. But they still have to go through the painful process of downsizing, especially on the race team side. To remain operationally excellent while shedding 25 or more roles on site will not be easy and McLaren have been asking the other teams for some extra time to get there. I can’t see Brawn agreeing to that now.

Then you have the central question, which is why would Button want to go up against Lewis Hamilton in equal cars, when he could have stayed where he was and raced Nico Rosberg? I’ve said all along that this is a battle I do not believe he can win. But he has chosen to take on the challenge in exchange for a three year contract worth £6 million a year. I spent quite a bit of time with him in Abu Dhabi and he was talking then about “fresh challenges and resetting targets”.

I took it to mean he was afraid of becoming demotivated, having achieved his life time’s ambition and I admire him for deciding to take on one of the greatest challenges imaginable in F1, the other being to race Alonso in equal cars.

It proved too much of a challenge for Heikki Kovalainen, who’s head was completely destroyed by Hamilton. Button is more mentally resilient; he handled being beaten by Rubens Barrichello calmly. But the very fact that that happened quite a bit in the last few years makes you wonder about the wisdom of tackling Hamilton.

At the start of the season, Button will have the psychological advantage of carrying the number one on his car, with Hamilton number two, but that is only likely to prove an even greater motivation for the 2008 champion to assert himself over his new team mate.

“It’s always a difficult decision to leave a team when you’ve been there for so long, ” said Button. “But life is all about challenges – and, most important of all, it’s about challenging yourself. So, although I won the World Championship with Brawn GP last year, and I’ll never forget that, I was always adamant that I wanted to continue to set myself fresh challenges. So that’s why I’ve decided to join Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

“Lewis has achieved an incredible level of success in a very short period of time, and he’s a wonderfully gifted driver who has earned the respect of every Formula 1 driver. I’m sure there’s plenty that we can learn from each other.”

It's staying on a McLaren (Photo: Darren Heath)

It's staying on a McLaren (Photo: Darren Heath)


Much is being made of the ” all British” line up at McLaren, especially in contrast to what is likely to be an all German (and less charismatic) one at Mercedes. This is great news for Vodafone, who will have been concerned by McLaren’s poor performance this season and by the loss of Mercedes. They can get behind this and market the Bejezus out of it.

“I think it’s fantastic that we’ll be forming an all-British line-up, ” said Button. “I know that we both fly the flag with pride, and I sincerely hope we can make the whole of the United Kingdom, as well as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes fans across the world, proud. Nothing means more to me than to be able to represent my country, and I’m looking forward to both of us painting Formula 1’s circuits red, white and blue for many years to come.”

It will be ironic if the ongoing negotiations to save the British Grand Prix in the light of Donington’s failure do not succeed. However I understand that some senior government figures are involved in this and that there is optimism that a deal will be done.

It’s interesting to remember that when Ron Dennis was looking for a partner for Fernando Alonso and hired Lewis Hamilton, he said that he had been through every driver on the grid and they had all either “peaked” or “plateaued” – at the time Button was certainly one of the drivers he was talking about. Button has certainly turned that perception around in McLaren’s eyes.

Final point, it will be interesting to see the two Dads together, John Button and Anthony Hamilton. They have quite a bit of history and not all of it positive. That said they are both professional F1 Dads now and will no doubt put on a show. They have succeeded in the past; Lewis used engines tuned by John Button to win one of his karting championships.

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368comments

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1

What engine will button have next year?

2

Mercedes

3

Next year promises to be an intriguing year and now Felipe Massa has weighed in with by insulting Jenson, the fun has started early!

4
Paige Michael-Shetley

Yeah, it was not at all necessary for Massa to do that. His bump on the head must have done some real damage, as he’s been quite a prick since he’s been back in the F1 limelight.

5

McLaren strategy is wrong.

Now Rosberg has green light to develope himself as a no 1 in the team and he will be a dangerous menace for McLaren.

If McLaren would have forced Button to stay at Brawn GP, Ross’ team would have been very busy with the internal leadership fights while Mclaren can concentrate in racing.

Now Mercedes GP is showing off disappointment, but internally are very, very happy. They have drop the ballast to McLaren. Good!!

6

Looking forward to lots of column pixels on the looming war of words and legal fights as it becomes clear that both sides are extremely aggrieved.

It seems JB was miffed about more than just the money – was it only a 1 year contract, was it that he believed he had been given a share in BrawnGP in return for not enforcing his 3 year contract?

Meanwhile, MercGP are briefing away about breaches of contract, betrayal and enforcing JB keeping away from McLaren until December.

I think Brawn and MercGP are going to end up looking like spoiled sulky losers, and McLaren the knights in shining armour rescuing the driver in distress. All that great PR – which is worth lots of money in sponsorship – is being thrown away, as McLaren get a World Champion for free once the bonuses in sponsorship sales from this deal are accounted for. Brawn enforcing contracts against the team that gave them the World Championship through their cooperation last year. You couldn’t make it up!

Lots of digging for you to do JA…

7

I’m beginning to believe the key was indeed this “feeling valued”, but the measure wasn’t money – it was the length of contract.

I suspect that a short contract was on offer so MercGP could time getting hold of Vettel, and Jenson felt devalued at this aspect.

Guessing further, if he could see that the other top teams wouldn’t have an opening to coincide with the end of his next contract, I suspect he decided that his only option would be to go now rather than then.

If he had to leave Merc in a year, with Ferrari overflowing with drivers, and McLaren probably full, who would he have gone to then?

8

James,

Do you think it was a mistake for Brawn to let Jenson go? Or do you have a “time will tell attitude?”

Also it looks like your blog is blowing up! That’s an American parlance for gaining popularity…

9

I don’t think they wanted it to happen, put it that way. Depends who they end up with

10

James, when do you think Jenson knew for sure that Merc were buying into Brawn ?

11

Over a month ago

12

James there seem to be serious discrepancies between what were thrown about in the press as the salary offers to Jensen and what Ross and Fry are saying now. Any chance of you getting in there to both camps and finding out what actually went on. The original story of Brawn wanting him for a pittance does not seem to hold water any more.

13

James do you think we can safely assume Jenson has either:

Made a rash, emotional-based decision to move to McLaren or…

Been convinced that McLaren will have the better car in 2010.

14

The latter definitely and also he wants a fresh challenge and he’ll certainly get it! You have to admire him for that, even if you think he’s nuts. That said, if the car is really good and well balanced, he will have some big days, no doubt. But I still think Hamilton will be ahead more often than not.

15

James, will any of Jenson’s engineers like Shove being making the move with him as part of the deal?

16

Doesn’t sound like it

17

Jenson vs Lewis……who was it put the car into the barrier in Monaco and again in Monza chasing down the ‘flying’ Button, pressure in 2010 might push Lewis into mistakes again, also apart from Grosjean ramming Jenson off the track [together with Lewis] in Spa Jenson has not put a mark on his car or a wheel off the track during his championship winning year.

18

James,

what are your thoughts on this, something out of far left side of left field!!

How about Mercedes bring in one of their ex sportscar drivers to the new team. Someone who has vast years of experience, knows how to win races, knows how to set up cars, very great friend of Ross Brawn, just out of contract with Ferrari!!

Maybe he could do some winter testing on the new car as a favour to Ross, and if the car turns out to be competitive he could sign for the year, if it’s a dog, he was just helping out!

I’m sure mercedes would find whatever money was necessary to bring back Schuey, even Bernie would chip in for the publicity it would bring!

19

I feel sorry for Jens. He cant convnce people he is up there with the best of them when he wins a championship – then he gets slaughtered for taking on Lewis.

I respect him for (1)rising to the challenge of becoming WDC and (2)taking on the challenge of trying to beat Lewis in a Mclaren.

But if Jens wants to win another WDC he would have had to take on and beat Lewis anyway, so at least this way he will know that its his ability, and not a better car design that was the winner.

Has everyone forgot about the impact winning a 2nd WDC in the McLaren would have on people’s view of Jenson – he would then HAVE to be respected as a great, as he would have beaten the best and also achieved what Alonso never did.

By the way how good would it be if USF1 painted their car in the Dukes of Hazzard style!!!!

20

Shame for Button. Circus next year at McClaren then, girlfriends will be competing too!

21

Some thoughts on Brawn…Ross must have known back in the summer that Mercedes would be ‘buying in’and would not be keeen on retaining the ‘oldest Brazilian driver on the grid’ and therefor did the Nico shuffle before the end of the season,[I wonder what would have happened if Rubens had won the championship!] if Brawn were staying as a private team in 2010 they would have signed Jenson the day after Brazil, but with Mercedes calling the shots I don’t beleive they were willing to ‘overpay’ Jenson and probably only offered a one year deal, there was certainly a degree of stalling going on. Interestingly all the old ex grand prix drivers seem to concur that Jenson has made a mistake in signing for McClaren, but he may have been manouvered into a corner by Mercedes as part of their ‘grand plan’ for a German team and English team.

23

I think there is a different view here to the “Career Suicide” and “he’ll never beat Lewis” brigade

What I do believe though is that Lewis will out qualify Jenson a lot in 2010 – as Lewis is an excellent qualifier on low fuel and next year we are back to the good old days of true pace qualifying. JB on the other hand is not so fast in quali or on low fuel

However, Jenson is a smoother driver who prefers a car that understeers and Lewis is an agressive driver that prefers oversteer. And yes, the 2010 car will have been designed to Lewis’ style (as the design core will be pretty much done by now) BUT having said all of that – Jenson may well do FAR better than many people think in the race next year because he manages his tyres better than Lewis. On full tanks, Lewis will need to develop his driving style to cope with the extra car weight and the subsequent effects on tyre wear.

I fully expect Jenson to beat Lewis in races where Jenson manages to qualify close enough to Lewis on the grid

—- But stil for me, Lewis will get more WDC points than JB. However, I think people should not get carried away with the difference and I expect JB to prove he can cope in a number of races next year (especially at high tyre wear and high brake wear curcuits)

24

Certainly a lot of negative postings on “Jenson’s” decision. Takes two to dance. It’s also just as much about “Brawn’s” choice. Perhaps they offered him no better than what Rosberg is getting. Although I must say I did not care at all the way Button’s manager played his cards.

25

It will be a shame if Raikkonen takes Button’s place at Brawn-Mercedes. That will mean that the team was willing to offer a washed-up demotivated lucky ex-champion (a quick one on his day, nevertheless, though he doesn’t have that many “days”) his desired salary of 7m but not 6m to a man who is motivated enough to challenge the likes of Hamilton!

26

I just wonder if Lewis will just subconciously walk up to the number 1 car and only realise is 2010 …. 🙂

27

Don’t forget Button doesn’t exactly show loyalty, twice in his career he has tried to jump ship from contracts and failed. He has a habbit of moving teams at the wrong times, though I can’t see this being one of them at least for the 2010 season. The car will be a front runner at least, what Hamilton does to him will be another case.

28

I think Jenson Button’s decision is a very brave thing to do, and is probably one of the biggest gambles and F1 driver has made in recent years. Lewis Hamilton has in two years achieved almost total dominance within the McLaren team, and scored the lion’s share of points for the team this year. He is certainly, without question, the biggest challenge Button has ever faced as a team mate.

For Jenson, I can understand the motives. Obviously, he feels he deserves more millions in referance to his new world champion status. He also desires to be in one of the best teams in F1, a team steeped in the tradition of winning. So that’s two big boxes ticked.

More importantly though, is how he is percieved. When Hamilton burst onto the world stage almost three years ago as a rookie, Jenson endured a torid time at Honda. As Lewis was winning races, against a double world champion team mate, Button struggled.

This was the man, seven years earlier, who was Britain’s next new world champion in the making. Now, after years in the midfield in average racing cars, he had to witness a new rookie in a sublime race car capture wins, headlines, and almost a world championship.

The plus side of this gamble is that if Jenson prevails, the dark days of 2007 and 2008 will be buried deep in the subconcious. His 2009 title will not be considered a one off, and his stock will almost certainly rise.

The downside is if Hamilton, as widely believed, destroys Jenson at McLaren. Alot was made of Alonso and the infighting at McLaren in 2007, but we must remember that Fernando for all his skills really had to battle hard to keep Hamilton in check!

29

Looks like it turned out as predicted. I do not want to take sides or pass judgement but I will not write Jenson off till he gives cause. Even if it does not work out for him on the track he has some 20 million reasons that say he cant lose. The buzz the all Brit pairing will generate should also make it very easy for McLaren to cut some amazing sponsorship deals before 2010. The only losers here appear to be Mercedes who have likely been left with two drivers that have never won a race to defend the constructor’s title with (assuming it is the Rosberg/Heidfeld team they field).

30

Button seems to always trick himself up when it comes to contracts. I just can’t see McLaren being able to design a car that suits both of their drivers styles. So it’s much more likely to suit Lewis’s style, and unfortunately the evidence suggest Button stuggles big time unless the car perfectly suits his style.

On Brawn, firstly their car is going to be seriously fast next year, James your article on the compromises made in a hurry in this year’s car almost guarantees that. You’d have to expect that Kimi is still a chance of getting the spare Brawn seat, despite the public comments. While Heidfield is expert at achieving a good finishing position, Mercedes will still want at least one star in their car next season. Although now might be a good time to whack some money on Rosberg for WC next year.

31

I was going to add something about a saying in my profession – “Security through obscurity”, and the fact that obscurity doesn’t help.

In F1 there are only 2 measures of a driver. The WDC, and your immediate team-mate.

Button has the WDC, and people are *still* not satisifed. Well, if that’s not good enough, and you want to prove yourself further (either to yourself, or to the public) the only way is to deliberately choose to pit yourself against someone “worthy”.

He could have chosen the “obscurity” path, and stayed in a Brawn/Mercedes, where measurements against Rosberg wouldn’t have improved his reputation.

Surely he only stands to gain by going to McLaren. If everyone already thinks Lewis will win, his reputation can’t suffer. Can it?

I was also thinking about Jackie Stwarts comments about not joining Lotus in 1965. However, this situation is different… Jenson has a WDC under his belt, and wants to step UP, not down.

32

I disagree with all the commentators saying that Button has made a mistake.

The fact is that either Hamilton is a better driver than Button, or Button is better. We don’t currently know which it is, but everyone has their opinion – including the drivers themselves.

That fact won’t be changed by the drivers being on the same team, just as it won’t be changed if they avoid each other by choosing different teams.

But here Button has shown he has the courage to take the test, and I actually think it’s a big reason for him wanting the move. I remember the mind games with Jacques.

Once we know the answer, then we will know the answer. It won’t make Button any better or worse than he actually is, but it does give him and us the measure.

If the measure shows Lewis is better, it still won’t devalue his current WDC. The people who think he merits the WDC for 2009 will still think that in 2010. The people who think he was a weak winner in 2009 will still be thinking that in 2010.

So Bravo to Button. I’m looking forward to watching his challenge unfold, and watching it progress as Button find his feet in McLaren. I hope it happens with the team-matieness that went with Button/Barrichello, rather than the battle that went with Alonso/Hamilton.

33
Paige Michael-Shetley

The Hamilton-Button pairing, in my view, is very similar to the Vettel-Webber pairing; young and extremely fast driver paired with a quick and very experienced teammate. As in the Red Bull pairing, I’d expect the younger driver- Hamilton- to win out, but the two will be much more closely matched than many are currently saying they will be, just as Vettel and Webber were more closely matched than people expected they would be.

34

It’s a good mirror, isn’t it?

Shame it’s so long before we get to see anything happening…

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