‘Sort it, or I’m off.’
That’s the ultimatum issued by Jenson Button to his Honda team after a season in which he was able to score only six points, spending far more time at the back of the grid than was seemly for a regular podium attender the previous year, and suffering repeated mechanical failures.
And he really hasn’t minced his words, either. He has told the Mail on Sunday: “I can’t be bothered with working my nuts off and qualifying 14th any more.”
Elsewhere in the interview he comments wryly on his descent from golden boy of British motorsport to a regular attender towards the back of the grid.
And he speculates that Lewis Hamilton, the inheritor of his poster-boy crown, may have just have blown his best chance of winning the championship.
A frustrated Button said: “The car was a complete dog, and I’m just not interested in racing like this any more.
“I’d love to win the title with Honda but I’ve got to start winning, and if I don’t then I have to be ruthless. There’s an option in my contract which means we can all sit down and discuss the future at the end of the season.
“It things don’t work out, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. I’m not saying I expect to win the world title (in 2008), but I do expect a dramatic improvement.”
He said that his frustration after this year’s Hungary race, which he had won the season before, was so great that he “wanted to hit something” and described this year’s experience as “sitting in something undriveable.”
Button on Hamilton
On Lewis Hamilton, he said: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I’d been in Lewis’s position this year, but it’s not because it’s Lewis or that he’s British.
“If I’m not winning, I don’t give a damn who else is. It doesn’t make any difference to me if I’m not in a competitive car.”
But he added: “He [Hamilton] is a great driver, but there are lots of great drivers in Formula One who did not have his package.
“What would worry me is the lost opportunity. You can’t say in my sport: ‘Oh well, I only missed out by a point so next year I’ll go one better.’ It doesn’t work out like that.
“He should be sick as a dog because another chance like that might not come round again.”
On his future, he said: “I want to win races, and if I get a car that allows me to do that I’ll take the chance and become world champion.
“But if I never get a car that’s quick enough I’ve got no chance.”
Of course, Jense’s past relationship with the team has hardly been untroubled.
He joined Honda’s forerunner British American Racing (BAR) in 2003 following an unceremonious eviction from Renault by Flavio Briatore to make way for Fernando Alonso.
He was partnered with the mercurial Jacques Villeneuve and their relationship appeared at times comparable to the the wars for precedence this season at McLaren. The only things missing were the phenomenal successes.
In 2004 the team took a giant leap forward and finished the year second in the constructors’ championship, raising hopes that Button could be the first British World Champion since Damon Hill in 1996.
But, in a decision that puzzled many observers, Button claimed BAR’s engine supplier Honda was not committed to remaining in F1 and that his future would be better served through returning to Williams, the team that brought him into Formula One back in 2000.
A messy and public contract battle saw him forced by the FIA to stay with BAR Honda, after which he tried to buckle down and get on with things – but the gods of motorsport were not with him.
In 2005 the team was disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix thanks to irregularities with a fuel tank and scored a two-race ban as a consequence. Its season was irreparably damaged.
At the end of the season he became embroiled in another messy contractual row. Now legally committed to returning to Williams, he instead decided he would rather throw in his lot with BAR Honda.
The team bought him out of his Williams contract and 2006, the first year of the Honda rebranding, was a success for all parties with Button winning his first Grand Prix at the Hungaroring in August.
With changes in the team’s management, and significant question marks over sponsorship that saw the car stripped of advertising and rebranded as the ‘Earth Car’ the team has slid steadily backwards through 2007 as the car became increasingly uncompetitive.
Even scoring points has proved a challenge and 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell didn’t help matters at all by claiming Button had failed to take advantage of his opportunities and had lost his chance of winning a title.
It’s all about 2009
Our view: It’s been plain for a while that Jenson must be feeling like this but up until today he’s been more or less the soul of diplomacy.
So, why now? It’s all down to the timing, surely.
By mentioning that clause in his contract he’s setting out his stall for a new drive at the earliest possible opportunity, applying maximum pressure to Honda in the process.
Which adds to our hunch that anything sorted out this year, including the pivotal future drive of Fernando Alonso, is all just a precursor to some seismic changes for 2009.