Record updated 21-Apr-08
Jenson Button is a British Formula One racing driver. He currently drives for the Honda Racing F1 team. He won his first Grand Prix in Hungary, on August 6, 2006.
Born in Frome, Somerset, England, Jenson Alexander Lyons Button is the son of former British rallycross ace John Button (well-known for his so-called Colorado beetle Volkswagen), whose best overall result was to become the runner-up in the RAC British Rallycross Championship of 1976.
Button junior began karting at age eight, generally dominating every race in which he took part. In 1991, he won the British Cadet Kart Championship, taking first place in all 34 races. In 1997, he became the youngest driver ever to win the European Super A Championship.
He switched from karts to cars in 1998, winning the British Formula Ford Championship with nine race wins driving a Mygale for Haywood Racing. He also won the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, ahead of future Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, and finnished runner up in the 2nd in the European Formula Ford Championship.
Button entered Formula Three in 1999 driving a Dallara for the Promatecme team. He won three rounds, Thruxton, Pembrey and Silverstone, finishing the season as top rookie driver, and third overall in the championship, behind Marc Hynes and Luciano Burti. In other F3 races he finished fifth in the Marlboro Masters and second at the Macau Grand Prix just 0.035s behind Darren Manning.
He began testing in F1 in 2000, switching between teams, often outpacing Prost's regular driver Jean Alesi in testing at Barcelona. This auspicious debut caught the attention of Sir Frank Williams of WilliamsF1, who wanted Button as his test driver. However, Button quickly began outpacing Williams' second driver, Bruno Junqueira, so Button was contracted as the team's second race driver. He finished eighth in the 2000 Drivers' Championship, proving that he was genuinely fast by outscoring his teammate (the more experienced Ralf Schumacher) on many occasions. His best races of the season were a fourth place finish at the German Grand Prix and a fifth place showing in Belgium.
In 2001, although still under contract with Williams, Button drove for Benetton which had just been purchased by Renault. He had quite a dismal season; the car, which was constantly under development that year, was never fast, nor was Jenson. He did, however, place fifth at the German Grand Prix, but finished a disappointing seventeenth in the drivers championship that year.
In 2002 Renault renamed Benetton as Renault F1. Though his teammate Jarno Trulli routinely outpaced him in qualifying, Button had the superior race pace. He narrowly missed third place (and his first podium) at the Malaysian Grand Prix, being passed by Michael Schumacher in the last lap due to a suspension failure in his Renault, instead finishing the race fourth. The Brazilian Grand Prix gave him another fourth place; he would finish seventh in that year's drivers championship.
For the 2003 season team principal Flavio Briatore replaced Button with Fernando Alonso, previously test driver for the team. To cries of derison Briatore confidently stated "Time will tell if I am wrong."
In 2003, Button joined the BAR team alongside former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Their relationship was not good, early bad blood arose between them when Villeneuve spoilt a points-finish for Button in the first race of the year (at the Australian Grand Prix) by coming into the pits when it was Button's turn to pit. This resulted in an early season "war of words" in the press between the two BAR teammates. However, as the season progressed, the rift healed, and Button's times were consistently better than Villeneuve's, his best result being a fourth place in Austria. Unfortunately, Button crashed heavily during Friday practice at Monaco, causing him to miss both the race and the following testing session at Monza. By the end of the season, though, things were looking up, and at the United States Grand Prix Button led a lap for the first time. He finished ninth in the Drivers' Championship that year with 17 points, with teammate Villeneuve scoring just 6.
In 2004, Button and BAR-Honda made a surprise jump almost to the top of the heap (beneath only the ubiquitous Michael Schumacher and Ferrari). He finished the first race (Australian Grand Prix) in sixth place after a brilliant qualifying session, and in Malaysia Button landed his first ever podium finish with a third place, which he reprised at the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix. His (and BAR's) first pole position came in April at the San Marino Grand Prix, in which he finished second. By clinching third place in the 2004 season with a total of 85 points, Button confirmed his position as a significant challenger to the F1 crown.
On August 5, 2004 Button announced that he had signed a two-year contract to return to Williams from the start of the 2005 season; an apparent loophole in his BAR contract permitted him to leave if Honda's commitment to the team was in any doubt. BAR boss David Richards promptly vowed to fight to keep his driver, though Sir Frank Williams maintained that the switch was entirely legal. The FIA Contract Recognition Board (CRB) held a hearing to determine Jenson's 2005 status on October 16 in Milan, Italy, concluding that he was contracted to BAR-Honda for the 2005 season.
A poor start to the 2005 Formula One season, which included a disqualification at the San Marino Grand Prix, and hence a three-race ban (if you include the San Marino GP), appeared to have picked up after he took his second pole of his career at Montreal. However he started that race poorly, and crashed on lap 46 while in third place. Despite having to wait until the halfway point of the season to score his first World Championship point of the year, things improved considerably towards the end of the year. After a fourth place finish at Magny-Cours Button placed himself second on the grid for his home grand prix at Silverstone but another slow start saw him lose position and poor race pace dropped him through the field to finish fifth. Button has always gone well at the Hockenheim circuit, and 2005 was to be no exception. Putting his BAR-Honda on P2 in qualifying for the 2005 German Grand Prix, he then went on to finish third, his first podium finish of the season.
In 2005 Button again found himself in contractual controversy. Despite having signed a contract to drive for the Williams team for 2006 he judged the likely prospects for that team to have declined as their engine suppliers BMW had purchased the Sauber team and were to stop supplying engines to Williams. Frank Williams was adamant that the contract must be honoured despite Button claiming that circumstances had changed and he had a right to remain at BAR. On 21 September 2005, BAR confirmed that Button would once again drive for them in 2006 (having bought out his contract from Williams for a reported $30m).
At the start of 2006, BAR Honda were fully purchased by Honda and became a full works team, changing its name to the Honda Racing F1 Team. The 2006 season had both highs and lows, Button had a dismal race at home but took his first ever Grand Prix win in Hungary.
At the first round he scored five points with 4th place and finished on the podium in Malaysia. But in Australia his engine blew while running third, having started from pole position. He purposefully stopped short of the finish line to avoid an engine penalty. The early part of the season proved difficult. At Monaco he qualified 14th and finished 11th. At his home race at Silverstone he qualified 19th after he lost time being weighed and his team failed to get him on track quickly enough. He spun off on lap eight due to an engine failure.
At the 2006 Canadian Grand Prix, Button managed to out-qualify his teammate for the first time since Imola. However, after battling with David Coulthard in 8th, Button got passed by him and lost his chance for a point. Another retirement occurred at the 2006 United States Grand Prix when Button was one of several drivers eliminated in a first lap collision.
At the French Grand Prix, Button retired once more due to an engine failure. Qualifying for the German Grand Prix, however, brought a ray of sunshine into the bleak performance of qualifying this season. After a slightly shaky Q1, where he, once again, got pulled into the weighbridge - Button managed to get onto the second row of the grid with P4. After running for a while during the race in a strong P3, Button eventually finished back in P4.
Button took the first win of his career in 2006 at a chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix - the 113th Grand Prix start of his career. In doing so he overcame a 10-grid slot penalty for changing his engine (the second driver after Räikkönen to win a race despite this penalty), which meant he started 14th. The race was badly affected by heavy rain. Button passed a number of drivers in the early laps - including championship contender Michael Schumacher - and was up to fourth by lap 10. Following the retirement of leading drivers Kimi Räikkönen (accident) and Fernando Alonso (driveshaft failure) he went on to win the race by over 40 seconds from Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld. Alonso was behind Button on the racetrack when he retired, although Button still had one pitstop to make. Button's win beats Nigel Mansell's 1989 win from 12th on the grid at the Hungaroring. Button was the first British driver to win since David Coulthard in March 2003 and the first English F1 driver to win since Johnny Herbert won the European Grand Prix in 1999. His victory came 13 years after Damon Hill won his first F1 race at the same circuit. At the British Academy Television Awards 2007 Button's first win at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix earned ITV1 a BAFTA under the category of 'Best Sport'.
The Turkish Grand Prix held many expectations due to the previous race, and Button ended a strong 4th. The next three races, in Italy, China, and Japan all gave Button strong points positions with 4ths and 5ths. Over the last six races of the season, Button scored more points than any other driver.
In 2007, Button again drove for the Honda Racing F1 team alongside Rubens Barrichello.
In late 2006, Button sustained two hairline fractures to his ribs, following a karting incident. This resulted in him not being able to take part in winter testing, prior to the 2007 season.
Former British world champion Damon Hill aired doubts over Button's hopes to be a championship contender at Honda over the coming season, saying, "if he is serious... he has to get himself in a car that is a championship contender." Alan Henry writing in The Guardian 2007 F1 season guide, predicted: "Button will win a couple more races but is not a title contender." He was proved to be wrong as the Honda car proved to be aerodynamically poor.
At the first race of the season in Australia Button only managed to qualify 14th after handling problems. The race was no better as he endured considerable understeer throughout, was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and finished 15th. The next two races in Malaysia and Bahrain were just as unsuccessful, Button finishing 12th behind team-mate Rubens Barrichello in Malaysia, and not even completing a lap in Bahrain after colliding with Red Bull Racing driver David Coulthard at the first corner. At the French Grand Prix Button finished eighth, earning his and Honda's first point of 2007.
Following the British Grand Prix, it was announced that Button would remain with Honda for 2008.
As Button's place as the pre-eminent British driver in F1 was taken by Lewis Hamilton, former champion Nigel Mansell criticised Button, saying: "Jenson should have won more races, he has under-performed and that is down to him. He had the opportunity and he didn’t take it - there won’t be any more." Honda team boss Nick Fry defended his driver saying: "I would refute everything Nigel has said, and particularly I think his comments about Jenson’s reputation for partying are about five years out of date. People forget that Jenson made his F1 debut at the age of 20 - but he’s now 27. I’ve worked with him now for five years, and his increasing maturing and the way he changed his lifestyle is extremely noticeable."
Button made no secret of his frustration regarding his current situation. He described his 2007 season as "a total disaster", adding "I'm not going to hang around finishing 14th". He also described his car as "a complete dog". Jenson did, however, record several impressive outings towards the end of the season, especially when rain was prominent.
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