Those with mystic leanings may have heard an ethereal chuckle at Silverstone Saturday afternoon, and perhaps they were reminded of a white-haired man with a big smile, a ribald sense of humour – and a pink shirt.
Jenson Button heard it, above the rumble of his Mercedes engine and the remonstrations of his team boss. So did rain-soaked fans who, out of respect for the late John Button, had donned their #pink for papa tee-shirts bearing his image.
Button, driving a McLaren with much less downforce than the similarly engined Mercedes with which Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have dominated the season, had come to his home track expecting to be an also-ran. But through the capriciousness of the British weather and the quirks of fate – John Button gets on with everyone, no matter where he is – he found himself the best-placed Briton on the grid, behind pole-sitter Rosberg and the revitalised Sebastian Vettel but ahead of his troubled former team-mate Hamilton.
Changeable weather in the first two qualifying sessions had already left Williams and Ferrari with their pants down. Now, in the final session, the rollercoaster ride continued. Initially Hamilton beat Rosberg by two-tenths of a second, but when everyone went out for their final effort the track was perilously slippery after further rain. The duo just beat the chequered flag, and headed into their final runs, neither expecting to improve.
“I was nailed to Lewis’s gearbox and we both just beat the flag,” Rosberg said. “Then he ran wide in Turn 4 and let me go by.” Hamilton backed off, believing his pole was secure. But as he reached the pits, Nico Hulkenberg had sprung to the top of the timesheets for Force India before instantly being deposed by Vettel, who in turn fell to… Rosberg. Button leapt up to third.
“It was changing all the time, which made it very difficult,” Rosberg admitted. “It had been wet in the final three corners but I said I’d give it a go but never believed that the track would be better. And it was slower everywhere but that last sector. Now it was almost dry there and suddenly it turned out perfectly. It was a really good team effort, with good strategy calls.”
As Vettel celebrated a return to his old form, Button smiled quietly, keeping the lid on emotions that have been stirred privately at every track he’s visited since his father’s untimely departure. Perhaps it helped that he had just given team chief Ron Dennis the perfect response to his recent suggestions that his No 1 driver needed to start consistently beating his promising rookie partner Kevin Magnussen.
“I’m sure Ron is watching this,” he smirked in the press interviews. “But I think that there is mutual respect there, and we have a good working relationship which I hope continues in the future.
“We knew the final lap was crucial, but I told the team I was getting wheelspin in fifth gear in a straight line and that it probably wasn’t going to happen for us. But they told me that we had to take the risk so I pushed and it was a very aggressive lap. I can go to bed very happy tonight.”
It was, he admitted, an emotional slowing-down lap for him.
“I knew the old boy would have been very happy,” he said of his father. “I’ve had so much support from the fans, it’s been overwhelming. A lot of people are wearing pink out there for my old boy, and he’s definitely been smiling down on us today.”