Jenson Button, 14th time lucky?
Despite driving his fair share of competitive cars, Button has in contrast, driven some truly horrendous Formula One machines too along with his usual mid-season slump. This drop in form unfortunately coincides with the British Grand Prix and has seen the Brit fail to score a single podium finish in front of his home crowd. This nose-dive in performance was most evident in his championship winning year back in 2009, where his run of four consecutive race wins came to a crushing stop with a sixth place finish on home turf.
His podium-less run is echoed at only two other tracks on the 19 rounds of the 2013 calendar. The 33-year-old has failed to secure a top three finish at the Korea International Circuit and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin alongside his torrid history at the Silverstone circuit. After 13 unsuccessful attempts, he is determined to make the podium in front of his home crowd but 2013 doesn’t look to be his year.
When asked in an interview by ITN in December 2012 what he would prefer, another world championship or a British Grand Prix victory, he said the latter. “That is the most difficult question,” he admitted. “Winning the world championship is so special because you have fought for it all season. You have gone through good times and bad times all the way through the year. Whereas winning your home Grand Prix, it’s all adrenalin, emotion and it’s immediate. You cross the finish line and, I’m guessing, you see the crowd go wild and you haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.
“For me winning the British Grand Prix is something that I definitely want to do in my career but I also want to win the world championship again. However the missing part I would say, to my career, at the moment is winning the British Grand Prix.”
Here’s how he has fared in the past 13 attempts:
In fact one of his best results on home soil came in his debut season back in 2000. In just his fourth ever race start, he managed to out-qualify team-mate Ralf Schumacher to take sixth on the grid. Steady progression in the race saw him finish fifth and score two points – 13 years ago points only went up to sixth place.
It was a very different story 12 months later. After moving to Benetton for the 2001 season, he qualified a lowly 18th and limped home two lap down in 15th. Whilst we had seen his strong form and pace on numerous occasions in 2000, the Benetton car was tricky to set-up and drive, which caused the Brit to struggle profoundly throughout the season.
Benetton morphed into the Renault squad and Button was retained for the 2002 season. Despite scoring small amounts of points on a number of occasions, Silverstone bore another podium-less race. He qualified well within the midfield but finished 12th and last. Admittedly, he did retire four laps from the end but was still classified in the final results.
A move to BAR in 2003 revitalized Button’s chances. He started from the back of the grid through no fault of his own, but managed to battle his way back to eighth place. His reward was a single point to add to his tally but it was a welcome one after a very busy Sunday afternoon.
He remained with the BAR squad for 2004 which proved to be his breakthrough year. He managed to finish on the podium 10 times but despite the strong leap in form, he failed to take a top three finish at his home race. He came close though with fourth place after starting from third on the grid. However he dropped behind Schumacher’s dominant Ferrari and finished seven seconds shy of the final podium slot.
A front row start for the 2005 British Grand Prix gave Button fans a welcome boost after a difficult start to the season. However his qualifying pace proved to be stronger than his race pace and he dropped to fifth by the chequered flag. Another home race, another podium chance lost.
The following year saw the Brit stuck in a mid-season slump. After finishing outside the points in Monaco, he added another pointless race to his season after retiring early from his home round. He started the race from P19 but made steady progress through the field until his engine caught fire on lap nine due to an oil leak – sending him into the gravel.
The 2007 season saw no hope of a points finish. The earth-liveried Honda RA107 proved to be as slow as ever and took him to 10th place after starting 18th. It was a spirited and determined drive from the Brit but one that once again didn’t yield a trophy.
The following season showed some promise, but it seemed Button was always being displaced as the top Brit by rookie star Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver planted his car on pole the previous year and went on to finish on the podium at his first attempt. He then improved on that for 2008 by taking a dominant victory in wet conditions whilst Button retired from the race. A tyre gamble to switch to the extreme wet tyres proved to be genius but it proved to be wasted after he spun off on lap 38.
2009 had to be his year. After taking six race wins in seven races and coming off the back of four consecutive race victories, confidence was high in the Brawn GP camp. However, reality came crashing down when they realised that their competitors had made significant inroads into their advantage. The cooler conditions also hampered Button’s pace which saw him qualify and race to a lowly sixth place. Whilst he managed to keep up his points scoring run, it was a bit of a slap in the face for the team who had previously dominated the season.
A move to McLaren saw Button partnered with 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton – an all British driver line-up. His first season for the team also brought his best chance of nabbing his first podium finish on home soil. Of course, he didn’t finish in the top three but it was very close indeed. He had qualified down in 14th place after a torrid Saturday but made a strong recovery drive through the field to take fourth place. In fact he hounded third placed man Nico Rosberg during the closing stages and finished just six tenths off the German.
2011 was another disaster for Button. He had qualified 5th on the grid and had been on route for a strong points position before a problem at his second pit stop saw him emerge with a loose front right wheel. It was a costly error but one that didn’t look to have impacted a possible podium once again.
And so we come to last year’s race. It was almost 12 months ago now and came in the middle of another mid-season slump for JB. He had another disastrous Saturday that saw him get knocked out in Q1. He started 18th on the grid and it was another recovery drive for the Brit where he managed to just sneak into the points with 10th place.
So going through the past 13 attempts, it’s clear to see that whilst Jenson hasn’t exactly performed well at the Silverstone circuit he has also had some strong drives. Those have either been for what would be a good result in that car or a strong recovery drive through the field after a poor Saturday. He has also had to contend with a fair few slow and tricky cars and you need full confidence to drive round the ‘Home of Motor Racing.’
With the current pace and form of McLaren, it’s fair to say that Button isn’t favourite to take victory. In fact, it’s fair to say that scoring a podium finish would be the turnaround of the season. However, a points-scoring finish is possible and he will be determined to put on a good show for the home fans.
Jack Leslie is a freelance motorsport journalist. He has been part of the Richland F1 team since the very start and made his debut in the F1 paddock for the website at the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix. Jack also writes for Car Throttle and RumbleStripNews, as well as running a popular blog.