Now that Jenson Button has clinched the title, the Brits are raving about him. But I seem to recall that when he visited Cape Town back in 2005 he mentioned having an Afrikaans granny. So crack open the witblits, South African genes have once again made the grade in the fast world of grand prix racing…
Seriously, though, all of Formula One can be proud of Jenson, the reformed raver who has got to the top of his profession by dint of sheer determination.
He was a prodigy when he made his début in Australia in 2000 at the wheel a Williams-BMW. Having been “discovered” by Alain Prost (a man whose driving style he pretty much mirrors) and offered a contract with the Frenchman’s team, he opted for the seemingly secure Williams drive instead. But he was to be “loaned” to Benetton-Renault at the end of that year as Williams already had a contract with Juan Pablo Montoya for 2001.
His time at the Anglo-French team (which became fully-fledged Renault in 2002) was marred by clashes with Flavio Briatore, who ridiculed Jenson’s high-flying lifestyle – beautiful birds, flashy cars and a yacht anchored in Monte Carlo – and called him “a playboy” . Takes one to know one, I suppose! The niggles were, however, more likely to have been caused by Button’s refusal to sign up the Italian as his manager…
In 2003 a more mature Button signed with BAR Honda and, by 2004, under the tutelage of David Richards, he was “the best of the rest” behind the dominant Ferrari duo of Schumacher and Barrichello, finishing third in the world championship. For 2005 there were contractual wrangles after he had signed a letter of intent to drive for Williams, but he eventually stayed at BAR, which became fully-fledged Honda for 2006, the year he scored his first victory, in the Hungarian GP.
But Honda were on a downslide, and 2007 and 2008 were disasters, despite Ross Brawn joining the team in early 2008. Then came Honda’s withdrawal, and the Brawn fairytale of this year, which saw the Englishman win six out of the first seven races of the season… before the opposition (and team-mate Rubens Barrichello) began to close, eating into his once-huge points lead.
But in Brazil Button, after a woeful miscalculation on tyres in qualifying (was this Jenson or Ross?) showed his steel in the race, making at least three daring overtaking moves on his way to fifth place and an unassailable points lead in the title race. That early promise had been fulfilled, and Formula One now has a deserving new world champion. Wonder what the other “playboy” thinks now?