Just how good is Jenson Button?

He's won six GPs this year, but some say it's all down to the car. David Tremayne asks Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and Jackie Stewart for their verdicts

"Dad, I'm a Formula One driver!"


With those words, in the last week of January 2000, a 20-year-old kid from Frome called Jenson Button kicked off a career that, despite huge promise in the junior racing formulae, did not bear the fruit of victory until August 2006.

That was the day that Sir Frank Williams finally announced the result of a shootout between the English prodigy and upcoming Brazilian Bruno Junqueira.

It seemed a close-run thing. In truth, having been persuaded by Button's management to give him a try, all of his subsequent outings in one of the championship-winning team's cars were conducted purely to see if there was a reason why they shouldn't sign him. Button was so smooth, so fast, so assured, that the decision had virtually made itself from day one, and the ultra-conservative Williams and partner Patrick Head simply needed to convince themselves that opting for an untried young rookie would work.

It did. That year Button outqualified and outraced vaunted team-mate Ralf Schumacher on several occasions, most notably the fast tracks such as Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka. But Williams had the IndyCar star Juan Pablo Montoya incoming for 2001 and were obliged to farm Button out to Renault, where he failed to gel with Flavio Briatore, who preferred fellow rookie Fernando Alonso. Button's career stalled, revived partly with BAR Honda in 2004 when he took his first pole position and ended the year third behind the dominant Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. But then a series of duff Hondas all but killed his prospects, a well-driven victory in Hungary in 2006 notwithstanding.

This time last year, he was going nowhere. It seemed that he was destined never to unlock the door to victory. If he could not find the key, Button was not a Nigel Mansell, a man who could physically kick it open instead, nor an Alain Prost, who might deftly be able to pick the lock. Nor, even, an Ayrton Senna who might ease it open with the edge of a credit card.

Back then he was seen as a fast stylist who didn't have that final edge to become a winner, let alone a champion.

How times change, when you get a car to do your talent justice.

"He is the best in the business now and that car looks just amazing," 1992 champion Mansell told autosport.com. "I mean, the balance of that car... I was watching it at Monaco and I said to my son Greg, 'There are some awesome cars I have driven in the past, but I think that is one that goes into the history books as straight-out-of-the-box magical'."

Mansell, who like Button, took time to find that elusive key, added: "The great thing is that he served a very long apprenticeship and now it's coming together. The thing that is really good for him, and I congratulate him on, is that he is not letting this go, he is staying focused. He is more focused than I have ever seen him and better than ever. It's his championship, there is no way that anybody can come back at him. The only thing that can go wrong now is they have a really bad run of reliability, but I don't see that happening."

"Jenson has been in F1 quite some time and there were times he could have broken through," 1996 champion Damon Hill said. "Now he has and he is completely relaxed about it and loving every minute.

"Everyone tries to be an exception to the rule when they come into F1, but I don't think there are any. There are some exceptional drivers, however, and Jenson is one of them. So is Lewis [Hamilton]. You can lose that sparkle when things get hard, but Jenson has got it back and is filling up again."

Sir Jackie Stewart compared Button's style with that of Jim Clark and Prost, but is cautious in suggesting where he fits in the overall scheme of things.

"What he's done is exceptional," Stewart said yesterday. "He has done everything so far with great maturity, though wisdom might be a better word. He has come of age. Now he has accumulated experience. What he has done this year is to put that experience together with the knowledge that he gathered in the years when he didn't have everything he needed, mostly in terms of machinery, to satisfy the expectations people had of him. Now, at 29, he has the right car and is able to exercise the knowledge with that wisdom. You can't have knowledge alone without wisdom. And he is driving so well. He is not overdriving the car, and out of it he says the right things, not just politically correct things.

"How often have we seen him off the road? Whereas even when he was leading the world championship and had a car advantage, Michael Schumacher was off the road every weekend. Not Jenson."

But despite the tremendous impression that Button has made with six wins from the seven races so far in 2009, Stewart adds: "It's still too early to say where he belongs in the overall perspective.

"When I was winning everything, or Nigel [Mansell] or Damon [Hill] were winning everything, everybody wanted to talk about us being the best thing ever, better than Fangio, or Prost or Senna or whoever. But you can't say any of that.

"We still have to wait and see, but right now he is the best of his time, and that is the best he can aim for.

"His style is most reminiscent of Prost's. I never saw a smoother driver in the modern era. He drove like Jim Clark did, or like I did. Michael never did, even though he had what you might term engineering dominance. Alain never made any sudden hand movements on the wheel, and Jenson is just the same.

"And he is coping very well with the extra expectation. I haven't seen anything I haven't liked or a weakness in what he has been doing."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor