This weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix marks Jenson Buttons 200th Grand Prix. To mark this milestone I’ll be taking a look at his F1 career to date, today 2006 – 2011
Honda completed the buyout of the remaining shares from BAR during the winter, rebranding the outfit, Honda Racing F1. Jenson was quoted at the time saying “Honda buying the team is amazing news and really shows their commitment to winning the world championship”
Jenson got his new employers off to a good start with a fourth and third place finishes at the first two rounds before putting his Honda on pole for the third round in Australia. He was on for another decent points finish before his engine let go on the last corner of the last lap. The early season promise tailed off going into the European races; a string of low to no points finishes and DNFs.
Things were looking to be going from bad to worse by the time the teams arrived in Hungary. An engine change had cost Jenson a ten place grid penalty, dropping him down to fourteenth on the grid. In a race affected by heavy rain in the early stages, the track bagan to dry out and Jenson began to move his way through the traffic. His cause was helped by the retirements of Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso but Jenson took the lead and went on to win by over half a minute. It had taken him 113 races but Jenson was finally a race winner. He followed this up with more strong points finishes in the final races for the year finishing a credible 6th in the championship with 56 points.
Due to a karting accident during the winter, Jenson was unable to take part in pre-season testing, putting him on the back foot going into the opening round. The car however would prove to more of a handicap than his pre-season injuries. A poor aero package left the car with chronic understeer. The result was three points finishes, 6 points and a lowly fifteenth in the Championship.
2008 was ever worse for the Frome Flyer! Sixth place at the Spanish GP was the only points paying outing of the year.
Honda announced on 5th December that they were pulling out of Formula 1 due to the global economic crisis.
With the whole team’s future hanging in the balance, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry lead a management buyout of the team from the Japanese manufacturer and duly turned up at the final test of the winter with an untried car, fitted with a Mercedes engine. After his first run, he returned to the pits to report that the car didn’t feel that bad! His engineers then informed him that he had just gone seven tenths faster than anyone else. This turned out to be no fluke, Jenson put his Brawn on pole for the first race in Australia and converted it into a lights to flag victory. He went on to win six out of the first seven races giving him a commanding lead going into his home race at Silverstone. By this time the likes of McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari were hot on their heels who all now had their own version of the ‘double diffuser’.
Jenson seemed to be feeling the pressure of leading the championship by this point, his performances, especially in qualifying were significantly suffering. Martin Brundle commented “He has tightened up in the car and his natural instincts behind the wheel are being restricted.” Although he was still consistently finishing in the points (his only DNF coming at Spa), his team-mate Barrichello and the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel were closing in on his lead and with only three races to go, his lead over Barichello was down to just 15 points with thirty up for grabs. Japan was a race to forget for both Brawns with Barrichello heading Button home in a 7/8 finish.
With two rounds to go Jenson’s weekend got off to a very poor start in Brazil when a wrong tyre choice in qualifying left him starting down in fourteenth. To make matters worse, team-mate and closest championship rival was on pole.
Jenson went on to produce a performance worthy of a world champion making his way up to fifth and went on to wrap up the driver’s championship with a round to spare after Rubens finished down in eighth after picking up a puncture following contact with Hamilton.
With Brawn GP being bought out by Mercedes, thing were looking up for the Brackley based team and most thought Jenson would sign a new deal with the team that had given him world championship winning machinery. Jenson surprised many by joining McLaren instead, joining Lewis Hamilton in ‘his team’. Jenson said he wanted to test himself against the best and to give himself a new challenge.
After a low key start in Bahrain, Jenson once again showed his brilliance in changeable conditions to win his first race for his new team. This was followed up two races later with another win in the wet in China. Jenson was in the hunt again for the title right up to three races to go but a twelfth place finish in the inaugural Korean GP saw him give up the defence of his title, eventually finishing fifth with 214 points.
Jenson has had a consistent start to this season, albeit being in the shadow of the Red Bulls. Never finishing outside the top six in the first eight races including three trips to the lowers steps of the podium and one to the top step. In Canada, starting seventh on a wet track, Jenson’s race didn’t get off to the best start, colliding with team-mate Hamilton forcing him out of the race. Incurring a drive through penalty for speeding under the safety car didn’t do much for his chances as did picking up a puncture after colliding with Alonso left him dead last. Jenson had made a total of twenty-six on-track passes to put himself on Leaders Vettel’s gear box going into the last lap. A rare mistake by the German gifted the lead to Button with half a lap to go to elevate him to the top spot. Jenson goes into his 200th Grand Prix weekend off of the back of two DNF’s in Germany and Britain. Hungary has only seen one wet race in the 26 years of the event. That was Buttons first win, the weather in the region looks unsettled again this weekend so wouldn’t it be nice to see him on the top step at Hungary once again.
Happy 200th race weekend Jenson.