The champagne has all been drunk, after a few hours fitful sleep the hangover is easing and for Jenson Button realisation dawns that he is, indeed, the
2009 F1 World Champion
…. even if he will never win a Karaoke competition.
After 21 years in karts and working his way up through the lower formulae, Jenson reached F1 with a surprise – to him – call from Williams to join them for 2000. Frank and Patrick recognised that there was some great talent buried deep inside Jenson but they probably never really drew it out.
As Jenson started to earn some very good money he didn’t always spend it wisely quickly earning him a reputation as a bit of a playboy driver, a reputation that has dogged him throughout his F1 career.
During the last fifteen years I have met and interviewed Jenson many times and never found him to be the sort of arrogant wastrel he is often portrayed as by the red tops. On the contrary I always found him to be charming, friendly and likeable. I have also never found anyone inside F1 with a bad word to say about him, he is, unusually, both liked and respected up and down the pitlane.
Yet in many ways the last 9 years in F1 have been bit like his earlier career with flashes of brilliance interspersed with long periods of being just a journeyman driver. Even some of his staunchest allies have had their doubts that he had the talent to really go all the way to the very top. The podiums were slow to come, until this season only 1 win – in Hungary – was on his score sheet.
I often thought in the last couple of years that in many ways Jenson’s career could be compared with that of Sir Stirling Moss, indeed, they have great respect for each other. Stirling could probably have won even more races and even been a worthy F1 champion if he had not always preferred to drive British cars rather than any other even when they were clearly the worst cars on the grid.
Similarly, many have felt Jenson stayed loyal to Honda too long. Accepted they looked after him very well but they never gave him a car he could really shine in and then pulled the plug when it suited them leaving him and the rest of the team with a bleak – or no – future at the end of 2008.
But the collection of people that had been Honda F1 had one ace in their pack, Ross Brawn. Persuaded to return from a sabbatical and already having guided Benetton and Ferrari to 6 World Championships, Ross, when we met him early in 2008, clearly had massive belief that the team and its drivers, could deliver. In the absence of anyone else coming in to buy the team Ross put his money behind that belief and his name over the door.
For Brawn GP 2009 has been a fairytale season. The new car was immediately quick. They won the first 7 races. And despite having a lower scoring mid-season they have now captured both the Drivers and Constructors titles in their first year of existence. Truly remarkable.
Congratulations to Jenson and to all at Brawn … everything they have achieved is much deserved, determination, talent and hard work proving to be an unbeatable combination.