Jenson Button, Indianapolis, 2004, by Rick Dikeman. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licence.
We’ve a hunch, here at Brits on Pole, that we are currently looking at the definitive turning point in Jenson Button’s career.
In a year or two, we suspect, we’ll know whether his recent statements about how Honda should be aiming for a title in 2009 were right on the nail, or whether he was playing on a very dusty wicket indeed (to confuse our sporting terminology for a moment).
And, at this point, it’s completely impossible to tell which it will be.
Button has been recognised as an extremely able driver whose career was often affected by off-track events, some of which he had very little control over. The rumoured playboy lifestyle and the inability to make a sound decision regarding which team he wanted to drive for failed to take the shine off his ability in the car.
He definitely wasn’t helped by the fact that, just as he settled down and got a Grand Prix victory under his belt, Honda produced a car so bad that he might actually have fared better had he turned it through 180 degrees on the grid and driven it round backwards.
Quotes from the same Autosport interview in which he made the title remark read like something out of Wacky Races – when the benighted RA-107 needed downforce to corner it didn’t have any, and yet on the straight it was the stickiest thing on the track.
But now he should have things a bit more his own way. Ross Brawn moving to Honda as Team Principal should be excellent news for Britain’s former favourite driver.
But it also means that, lining up on the grid at Albert Park in March, when he launches his ninth season in Formula One, he will begin to run out of excuses.
If Brawn prevails then the Honda drive is going to start to look attractive to all sorts of people in 2009. (Have any conspiracy theorists mentioned Ross’s old mate Michael yet?)
So Jense has got to prove this season that he deserves to hang on to his race seat – or forever be dismissed as the Tim Henman of Formula One.
And this is why we think it’s make or break time for him right now.
Button recently told Autosport.com: “When Ross first walked into the team, there was the biggest round of applause I’ve ever heard. Even just his presence gives the team a better outlook and I think it does make people work that little bit more.
“Ross as a person gets to grips with things quickly, and he’s fitted in quicker than everyone imagined. The car itself when it arrives at the first race isn’t going to have a lot of input from Ross, but the team will.
“The way of working in the team has changed a lot and I think when it comes to the race and the strategy, we’re all going to be a lot more confident than we have been in the past, and that’s important to have that confidence in yourself but also within the other team members.
I’m so happy that we’ve got Ross. On his own he’s not going to turn the team around, but I think that everyone at the moment is positive and doing a great job. There’s not one person in the team that isn’t giving it their all.”
Sounds encouraging. We really, really hope that he can fulfil his own prediction and pull it off.