Now that Michael Schumacher has retired from Formula One, the most experienced driver on the whole grid is Jenson Button.
With 230 entries across 13 seasons of top-level racing, Button is one of the most pre-eminent figures in 21st century motorsport.
Button is now a driver who legends admire. British five-time grand prix winner John Watson is particularly a huge fan, saying: “Jenson Button is more like an artist. His car is a palette and he uses it to paint a lovely picture of a driving style that is rhythmic, fluid, a joy to watch.”
Yet it was only five years ago, in 2008, that the “Frome flyer” was regarded as a has-been, a playboy who had managed to let his phenomenal talent ebb away. Indeed, Button’s 2008 season was shockingly bad with just one points finish. This, following an equally bad 2007 season, looked to be the sad end to what had at first looked like being a promising career.
It was painful to observe a guy proclaimed to be the next big British racing star resigned to plodding around in 17th place in a car painted to look like the Earth.
What no-one knew however, was that the following season would provide one of the greatest fairytales in the history of the sport and ignite the career of a hugely talented driver.
To realise the full impact of that fairytale, it’s worth looking back to the early days of the century.
In 2000, Button debuted at the age of just 20 as Ralf Schumacher’s promising new team mate at BMW-Williams. Despite being outperformed by the younger Schumi, Button did shine with a couple of great performances such as a fourth place at Hockenheim.
Button spent the next two seasons at Benetton-Renault and although 2001 yielded an atrociously disappointing two point haul, 2002 saw him outperform the talented Italian, Jarno Trulli.
It was the team he moved to the following year where Button would spend a rollercoaster seven years. As their lead driver he easily got the upper hand on former world champion Jacques Villeneuve and raised his game even further for 2004, where he shone by taking a pole position and ten podiums, finishing best of the rest behind the two dominant Ferraris.
From here though, Button’s career entered a prolonged four year dip with just one glorious victory at the 2006 Hungarian grand prix acting as a beacon of hope for anyone who still believed that Button could become a regularly grand prix winner.
In 2008, Button’s year long pain in his “Earth car” looked to have been alleviated in an unpleasant way when Honda pulled all their funding from the team. With just two weeks until the 2009 season, Button looked to be without a seat. Yet two months later he had just won F1’s blue riband event, the Monaco grand prix, his fifth victory of a championship-winning season.
Button earned some respect in winning the 2009 world championship, but critics still remained, people who proclaimed him lucky; below the pantheon of the great drivers.
They didn’t know however, that Button’s best driving was still to come. The move to McLaren for 2010 was seen by most observers as a mistake. Only a foolish man would enter “Team Hamilton” after the highly talented Heikki Kovalainen had spent two seasons struggling in what was definitely a Hamilton-orientated outfit.
Yet three years on, Hamilton has left after becoming an ever more disgruntled and insular figure, while Button remains, after endearing himself to the Woking team.
He now stands with 15 wins in the record books, as team leader for the best resourced team in F1 who look to have arrived for 2013 with the best car in the paddock.
Jenson Button – double world champion? Sounds more than plausible to me.