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On Jenson Button’s 200th Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Jul 2011   |  6:20 am GMT  |  64 comments

I don’t normally make much of driver milestones in F1; usually occasions when some kind of cake gets presented because no-one can think of anything better to symbolise a numerically important moment.

But I’ll make an exception for Jenson Button’s 200th GP, about which we will hear a lot this weekend. It’s a lot of races and the narrative of his career, which started at Williams in 2000 is a real journey. From boy, to playboy, to frustrated racer, to world champion.

Britain’s highest ever points scorer in F1, eight more points will take him to Number 4 in the all time lists behind Schumacher, Alonso and the driver he admires most, Alain Prost – although the much higher points yields these days rather skew these statistics.

I’ve covered all of Button’s career, witnessed the arc, with its few ups and its many downs, leading to the extraordinary moment when he won his World Championship in 2009. Button got the job done, just the way he and his father John always intended.

I commentated on his first win here in Hungary in 2006; a moment many people thought might never come.

My mind goes back to my first proper encounter with him and John, at Macau in 1999. He was a 19 year old Formula 3 driver then, a few pimples on his face, fuzzy hair. He hadn’t won the British F3 championship and he didn’t win Macau either, but he seemed to have a lot of momentum and hype behind him.

John Button in customary pose (Darren Heath)

We found ourselves in the Italian restaurant in the Macau pit building, where all the greats have slurped spaghetti, dreaming of F1 stardom. It was lunchtime on practice day, Jenson was with his Dad, his then manager David Robertson and his trainer at the time. They wanted to know about F1; how it worked, who did what, the ins and outs. I’m sure they pumped many F1 people for information in the same way in that period, it’s a time-honoured tradition.

I’d just been working on a book with Michael Schumacher and had spent a fair bit of time with him and Ross Brawn, who was then the technical director of Ferrari. It had been a fascinating process, learning the inner workings of that relationship. Clearly the key to success was being in the right car and then being able to maintain consistency at a high level and never giving anything away to the opposition and I told Jenson that. Ross created the right environment for Schumacher to thrive and Schumacher kept it on the limit the whole time. He didn’t question Ross’ demands, he just did it.

I was reminded of that in 2009 when Brawn created the right environment for Button to shut out the opposition with a perfectly timed pole lap, make an aggressive pass at the start to set himself up for victory, to make things happen.

Today he is pretty consistent; not as fast by his own admission, as Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, but able to always be there or thereabouts and on his day to win spectacularly, as he did in Montreal this year.

Because the truth is that for most of his Formula 1 career Button was not able to make things happen. In fact quite the reverse; he made mistakes, chose the wrong career move, changed management like he changed his shirt. And that was a source of great frustration to him and to the man who has always believed in him the most, his father John.

But he got onto the right track and it came good for him and it’s an object lesson in determination.

There has always been a debate among fans about how good Button actually is and I suspect that this will never be fully agreed.

Ross Brawn admitted in 2009 to being surprised at how good a driver he was, not having really seen many signs of it as an opponent.

But the most eloquent advocate of Button’s skill as a driver is Gil de Ferran, who was sporting director of the Honda F1 team in 2005/6 I would often chat with him on the way back from Grands Prix and he was evangelical about Button’s gifts. I think this was partly because Gil was schooled in American racing where the teams are more open with information than in F1. He could see what Jenson was doing and felt that it shouldn’t be a secret known only by the team,

“It became apparent to me very quickly that Jenson’s skill was at a very high level looking at his data traces,” recalled De Ferran, once a champion driver himself in America, “There was never any exaggeration in his throttle, brake or steering, everything was done the precise amount. He would never over do it and come back,

Button on the limit in the Brawn (Darren Heath)

“It indicated tremendous amount of feel, I think a driver that has the level of feel and sensitivity in his hands and feet that Jenson has, is able to drive at a very high limit without ever making mistakes or overstepping the mark.”

Pressed for examples, De Ferran remembered qualifying for the British Grand Prix 2005 in particular. Button qualified 3rd, but, as is sadly all too common in the sport, the brilliance of what he had achieved was appreciable only by the handful of people inside the team with access to the telemetry,

“I remember looking at his data after qualifying and thinking, ‘Jesus, Christ!’ He had basically judged every corner to absolute perfection. That’s something the public doesn’t see; the tiny adjustments he made to find a whole new limit was very impressive to me. It was perfect – there was not one correction too many. It was all done with surgical precision; the throttle, brake and steering were all just perfect

“I can’t tell you how hard it is to go that fast and be smooth. The public likes the guy with the tail out but in my opinion, being on the limit without those moves, demonstrates a higher degree of skill. “

It’s all subjective stories of course, as so much of the debate about drivers is. And as the comments section on this site and on other sites prove, fans will always talk up their favourites and talk down drivers they dislike.

Button is one of F1’s front runners and race winners at a time of very intense competition among drivers and teams, that’s all that really needs to be said.

He’s also a world champion and the spring in his step these days is because he knows that no-one can take that away from him.

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In my eyes, Jenson is THE best driver in F1. Myself I am a lewis Hamilton fan, but i admit that Jenson Button is a much better driver. Hamilton is a more aggressive driver, but thats not really a good thing because he cant handle it when he cant get the job done as easily as he would like, then he makes mistakes. But Jenson is always so calm and cool, and rarely makes mistakes, and when he wins, he wins in pure STYLE. Truly an amazing driver and people should appreciate him more than they do. He has a rare gift.



Many thanks for doing this tribute to Jenson’s F1 career.

While at McLaren, Jenson has showed his class in many ways apart from being a genuine WDC contender and competitor to Hamilton. He has also proven to be a great asset as a calming force at McLaren making a wonderful pairing at the team.

Hoping Jenson has a great drive this weekend.


Button will always remain my F1 “Rockstar.” From zero to hero and now a (former) World Champion, he is always on pace and maybe more likely than his teammate to cause a failure in the leading driver.

I hope my son can emulate his racing savvy and with luck his career.

Go Jenson.


I’ve been a JB fan since his Williams drive in 2000. At first because he was British and a new talent; I was hoping we had one of the great drivers. His career was frustrating to watch and I was very emotional when he won in Hungary 2006. His 2009 championship is one of my all time favourite sporting experiences; I loved the whole season, although it was frustrating to see how people interpreted the first and second halves of the season. Great to hear James’s analysis of his talents – he’s clearly shown he’s a top driver. Probably not one of the greats, but then very few people are of course. What nags at me a little is that I think he has the talent to go a bit faster and get on LH’s level – a bit more aggression or urgency. Maybe the penny will drop and McLaren will build him the right car and he’ll do it again. Either way I’ll always be a fan and thanks for 2009 JB!


I see many comments regarding Jenson’s WDC in 2009 and how he was in a dominant car for the first half of the season. The sub-text being that he wasn’t\isn’t that quick otherwise.

If that is the case what does it say about Sebastian Vettel?

Good article James and congratulations Jenson on your 200th Grand Prix


James –

A thought. What if there were world drivers points (not team points) awarded to the top 10 drivers in qualifying for tracing the ‘perfect’ telemtry figures? In other words, judge out in the open, with points riding on it, what De Ferran was describing to you… a driver then would be battling his own ability to max out the car without overstepping, regardless of where he ends up on the grid. Could be really interresting… for example I’ll bet Kovi would score high in that respect. Would be fantastic to numerically judge driver acuety against nothing but himself. Just a thought…


He’s certainly a big hit with my girlfriend!


Huge Jenson fan from day 1. 2009 was magical. He had the car and he did it. That fact will never change. It’ll be a very sad day for me when he’s no longer on the grid and therefore getting me out of my chair.


Jenson has been my main driver since 2003. My happiest moment was probably his first win. In 2009, he had a poor second half of the season, and in some races, he got involved in collisions and was terrible at times. He disappointed me then, and just about got across the line when he needed to.

With regard to the “greatest second driver”, I’d say either Fisichella or Barrichello.

Mark in Australia

JB is definitely one of Formula One’s journeymen. We all love the playboys in sport, particularly the pinicle, like F1; but I think we can all agree if the sport had mire gentlemen like JB we’d all be better off.

He may be a WDC with millions of dollars and the underwear model girlfriend, but one can relate to JB because he seems to be simply a good bloke; I am sure you could confirm this, James.


It’s nice to hear some comments from another driver/team boss/whatever quantifying some of Button’s plaundits. I remember Ross Brawn’s comments and have always thought that JB compared mostly very favourably to Rubens in their time as team mates.

I thought that Williams made a mistake farming JB out. I think he would have won races in his second season. I think the perception of Jenson would have been different in that case.

I think that when we talk about a driver’s prowess in the wet it often says more about our prejudices than the driver’s ability. People, rightly, applaud Senna for his wet victories, whereas they deride Button because his skill tends to shine in difficult conditions.

Ok he isn’t on the same level as Lewis over one lap. Alonso found LH a handful in his first season though!

For me, his performance in 2006 is what legitimises his quality, where from Hungary onward he outscored everyone in far from the best car.


Congrats to Jenson. His calm and mature off track attitude is refreshing too.

Andrew Flemington

Jenson is a nice guy and a smooth driver but no one above is spelling out reality.? He won 6 races in a BGP [mod] with a huge advantage over the rest of the field. Once the DD was copied and the playing field leveled he was average for the rest of the season. Even Barrichello (a confirmed #2) won races. His other 4 wins have come in conditions favourable to his car and his driving style. He is clearly slower than Lewis and needs to win a dry race on merit before he can be considered a top driver and a worthy WDC.!!


I think the fact that Jenson drove such an amazing overtaking race in Brazil to seal his 09 WDC was actually more impressive than his earlier wins. As Brawn has mentioned they had no money for development and the car wasn’t improved in the latter half of the season against the massive budgets of McLaren, Ferrari and RBR. So – although I agree Jenson tightened up and psychologically broke mid-season, he recovered enough and was up fighting against the RBRs in the final race – you could see as soon as he had the WDC tied up he relaxed and was racing for the podium again.

Even Lewis in his WDC year had to take it down to the wire and had some horrible moments in 08 and could easily have lost it to Massa. Vettel last year never even led the championship and it could easily have been Alonso or Webber with a WDC if they hadn’t blown it.

I’m struggling to think of a recent WDC where it was utter domination since the Schumacher run obviously – well apart from Vettel this year and it’s already been seen, if he can’t blitz it in quali, he can struggle. No driver is perfect. Remember – the brawn wasn’t the only car to run a DD – I didn’t see the others running at the front. And if Barrichello was so brilliant second half of the season, why wasn’t he blitzing Jenson in the first?

Andrew Flemington

Vettel started behind Button in Brazil and finished in front of him. Didn’t make the headlines because he is not British.? The BGP as a superior car all year but only had two #2 drivers. Max Moseley gifted the DD to the 3 basket cases (Honda/BGP, Toyota & Williams) in an attempt to split FOTA. Fortunately he failed but Williams are still a basket case & Toyota have gone. Mercedes are still second grade after taking over a WCC team.!!


I’ve always been a fan of Button because of his driving style. I just love watching the in car footage, the smooth precision reminds me of Prost, my favourite driver when I first saw F1 as a small child. I think that his career has had a far more undulating path than the majority of racers on the grid today. He started at Williams, did well, then was farmed out to Benetton. Had a bad time there which was a partly his own fault, though Briatore always has his favourites and own agenda. I remember being at the Melbourne GP in 04 during a year travelling, telling everyone that Ferrari would dominate the season and Jenson would be the one to watch. Sure enough he finished 3rd overall and the Ferrari bore-fest came true. The fact Schumi had such a dominant car that year and other years shows how impressive Jenson’s point’s tally is, especially bearing in mind that since the new points system came in he has only had a couple of wins.

What strikes me most is his popularity with foreign friends, they all like him because of his character and attitude outside of the car. The whole fairytale of the 09 season is often called undeserved because he had a dominant car and only won the first few races. Well what about all the Newey car drivers whose cars totally dominated? Schumi had a massively dominant car. It says more about Button’s style that he scored points in all bar one race and only used a single chassis the entire season.

There was a great article at the start of last season in F1 magazine, or the BBC F1 Special, can’t remember which, extolling both Jenson and Lewis’ strengths and the story of their careers and the history of their relationship. Did a great job of explaining Jenson’s style and the inherent weaknesses within it.

Yes he had his playboy years, but not on a scale of a typical footballer. He was no different to the rest of us growing up, just scaled up for money and publicity. He has matured into a superb driver, a deserved world champion and an excellent ambassador for the sport. I just hope he gets a good result to mark the 200 and not another retirement!


First, I believe Jenson deserved his WDC. I would cite Brazil 2009 and certain other drives from that year. His reputation has been cemented by some great drives for McLaren. I would also note his points scoring performance relative to Hamilton (behind, I know, but not by much).

Having said that, why does he not the credit awarded to the likes of Schumacher, Mansell, Vettel, Hakkinen, Hill, Villeneuve and others who have benefitted from equally (or more) dominant cars?

I think it is because he lucked into the dominant car. In the other cases, the teams recruited their drivers based on their competitiveness, targetting the best talent available to them. The top teams recruit who they think are the best drivers, and there is some long term meritocracy involved. It is no concidence that Ferrari and McLaren have recruited Alonso and Hamilton respectively.

Brawn became overnight contenders, and only after that could they attract Rosberg and entice Schumacher out of retirement. Hence, Button was never actually recruited as the team leader of a potential championship team, and that is usually the biggest obstacle to be overcome.


Please can we start a petition for JA to be on sky [..provided this website keeps going…!!]


I don’t understand the Button myth. Nor the Brawn myth for that matter. Honda developed a fantastic car. Brawn inherited it. Button was/is superior to Rubens. A race he is not.

The best part of the Button myth however, is his remarkable skill of driving without his tires touching the ground. Race after race, He manages to return his tires to the pits unused.


Yes, well done JB. Never been his biggest fan, but he is a world champ and he always will be now, like it or not. Plus he seems like a very nice bloke. Pity there will be an elephant in the room on his special day. Martin Brundle found out last night! He’s “out of contract” for next year. EJ has described it as terrible. They were putting a positive spin on the FP1 commentary, but basically using 50% of the races on BBC to advertise the other 50% on Sky is crazy. I am devestated.


It’s good that Button is finally getting the renegotiation he deserves after all the rubbish printed about him not being a deserving champion and how Hamilton was going to destroy him as a team mate.



What are your thoughts on the new TV rights deal in the UK?

And most importantly do you think we will be hearing your commentary again?




Jenson – you’re truly a legend. Well done on making 200 races.


Murdoch wins….the fans lose

James Allen must be rubbing his hands in glee, surely he is odds on for the Sky commentating job


Congratulations to Jenson, its been a fascinating career with the deserved rewards finally being received. Mrs Werewolf thinks he’s “adorable” (I’ve been told to say that; but she says the same about Jake Humphrey and David Tennant, too, and has photos with all three to prove it!). I just think he’s bloody good.

One of the fascinations is that most of the real mistakes have been off-track, being in the wrong team at the wrong time and the associated, much publicized contractual debates, etc. The Prost influence is clear on Button’s driving but the Frenchman was a far better politician, albeit in a less aware era; however, people continue to say some pretty unpleasant things about Prost’s off-track methods (one former driver describing him as a sh/t to me last year) but I’ve never heard anything even broadly comparable about JB and on the few occasions I’ve met him, he’s been charming, even taking time to talk about his dad’s rallycross VW (which there was some talk of him restoring).

On-track, Button’s normally been pretty sound and surely no one can argue that he has pulled off some great overtakes.

Two hundred GPs have flown by but I hope JB will be around a while longer yet, score some more memorable wins and continue to present F1 in a good light.


off topic james. just read an article about sky sports aquiring the rights for f1 coverage from ’12-18. Although half the races will be shown on bbc (which is a a slight bit of good news among this bad) how do you feel this will affect f1 moving to a pay for service? my own opinion is i will not be following a single race on sky but that’s my personal boycott.


As a long time fan of jensons it’d be great to see him so well this year. He may never have the innate speed and aggression of Lewis but 2009 was a fairytale to watch and he’s become one of the most likable drivers on the grid and proved he can race, overtake and still win GPs even with a teammate who is perhaps more of a natural racing talent.

And I hope jenson shows some flare this year. Now the whole ludicrous deal with the BBC and sky means this is the last Hungarian GP I’ll see in full ever again, it’d be a nice farewell. Jenson may not be retiring but I think a lot of UK fans will be so he can, sadly, expect a lot less support shortly.


I never fancied Jenson too much nor rated him that much before. But I have to respect the guy, he get the job done even if he is not on the front row. The cream does rise to the top indeed. A bit like Alonso with less agression. Thanks for a great insight James.

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