Born on January 19th 1980, Jenson Alexander Lyons Button currently drives for the McLaren Formula One team alongside fellow Briton and world champion Lewis Hamilton. Jenson was born in Frome, Somerset in the UK to rally-cross driver John, who now divorced from Jenson’s mother, also has three daughters.
Jenson started racing at the age of eight when his father bought him a kart. He pretty much dominated just about every race he entered and in 1991 he won the British Cadet Kart Championship, winning all 34 races. Prior to switching to cars, Jenson became the youngest driver to win the European Super A Championship and in 1998 Button progressed to Formula Ford, also winning at his first attempt. 1999 saw Jenson in Formula Three, and winning two races Button was placed third at the end of the season. In the same year, McLaren awarded Jenson their prestigious Young Driver Award, and shortly after he began testing Formula One cars.
In 2000, Jenson tested for Williams and team owner Frank Williams was torn between Button and Bruno Junqueira. However, after the test sessions it was clear that Button was the quicker driver and was thus rewarded with a drive for the team that year. His first year in F1 was spectacular and Jenson often out raced his more experienced team mate Ralf Schumacher. Jenson was placed 8th at the end of the season, but was forced to make way for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001.
Although Jenson was still actually contracted to Williams, he drove for the newly Renault-purchased Benetton team. The squad were going through a transition period and the season was considered quite dismal. However, Button stuck it out and remained with the team for another year as they were transformed into Renault. 2002 went better for Button, matching his best finish of fourth on more than one occasion and finishing seventh overall in the championship.
2003 saw Jenson in contract turmoil. On one hand Flavio Briatore of Renault recognised Jenson’s talent, but a poor 2002 car saw Jenson wanting to return to Williams. However, the squad were still tied up with Juan Pablo Montoya and Flavio didn’t want to involve himself in the battle of contracts, so Fernando Alonso got the Renault drive and Jenson moved to BAR, partnering 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
However, Jenson’s relationship with Jacques didn’t get off to a good start when they started a war or words in the media before the season even began. It seemed to centre around Villeneuve exclaiming confusion at the media’s adoration for Button before he had even achieved a podium finish in his career. It sounded a bit like a playground fight, but it was enough to cause the two to fall-out even before they battled on track.
Unfortunately, at the first race of the season the war of words spilled on to the race track when Villeneuve pitted incorrectly but deliberately pitted ahead of Button. This action spoiled a points finish for Jenson and the battle continued for the rest of the season. To Jenson’s credit though, the British driver consistently outpaced his championship winning team mate, further adding fuel to the fire. And despite suffering from a huge 180mph crash at Monaco and missing two races, Jenson still finished 11 points ahead of Jacques Villeneuve in the title race.
Things were finally looking up and Jacques and Jenson even made up – at least for the media anyway – and 2004 looked to be an even finer year for the young British driver.
In only the second race of the season, Jenson claimed his first podium in Malaysia, and this pretty much continued to the end of the year. The BAR Honda team were looking good for a win all year, but unfortunately, Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari were dominant all season, and despite all the best efforts of the Brackley based team, they had to settle for a string a seconds and thirds. But the signs looked good for BAR and the team finished runner-up in the final championship standings, only beaten by Ferrari. Jenson finished a fine third with a magnificent tally of 85 points.
Before the season ended though, and while Jenson was enjoying the much improved car from BAR and raking in the points, he announced that he had signed a two year deal to return to Williams starting from 2005. This news came as a shock to just about everybody, not least of whom his team manager at BAR – Dave Richards. Richards vowed to fight to keep Jenson on-board, and claimed that the apparent loophole in Jenson’s contract did not exist and that Jenson had actually broken his terms with BAR. The following fight did a lot of damage to Jenson’s reputation, and lost him much of the respect he had so valiantly won by driving well all season. The case eventually went to the FIA Contract Recognition Board, who found that Jenson should honour his BAR contract for 2005.
Disappointed at not returning to the team that gave him his break, Jenson continued to drive for BAR, which was undergoing its own transition into Honda, as the Japanese car company had recently brought the squad.
2005 wasn’t to be a good year though. Following on from the massive success in 2004, the team were feeling pretty hyped all winter, and they made claims of championship wins before they could really assess the capabilities of their car. And their car wasn’t that good. But the under-performing vehicle was the least of their worries, as the team were unceremoniously disqualified at San Marino for breaching the technical regulations. The team had apparently used a hidden reserve fuel tank to make the car weigh more, meaning they could run lighter up to the final pitstop. Honda had their results from San Marino taken away (their first of the year) and were disqualified from competing in the next two races.
Jenson took this opportunity to make his commentating debut for UK ITV, partnering James Allen and Martin Brundle in the ‘box at Monaco.
On his return, things started to look better for Jenson, scoring the second pole of his career in Montreal. Unfortunately the race didn’t go as well and he crashed out while in third. It wasn’t until halfway through the season that Jenson finally scored a championship point, but it was to be the first of many before the season ended. A fourth place at the French Grand Prix boosted his confidence and Button placed his car second on the grid for his home race at Silverstone. Although Button finished the British Grand Prix in fifth after a poor start to the race dropped him down the field.
Despite claiming another podium at the German Grand Prix, Button was be embroiled in another contract dispute, again with Williams. Williams said they had a contract with Button for 2006 and wanted the British driver to return. But Jenson had changed his mind and wanted to remain at BAR, which he knew would becoming Honda. Jenson was also concerned with Williams engine contract with BMW expiring. Button got his way this time though, and Jenson bought out his Williams contract for a reputed $30m.
Honda partnered Jenson with ex-Ferrari ace Rubens Barrichello for the 2006 season, and again they hyped up their season before the car had actually raced in anger. Although this time they did base their hype on a strong winter testing package that did seem to suggest the car would be a winner. Unfortunately, 2006 was a very up and down campaign, and while the team experienced many highs, they also messed up many races and lost a fair few.
One highlight would have to be the teams – and Jenson’s – maiden win in Hungary. A wet race saw Jenson make all the right decisions and a delighted Button reveled in the team’s success. It was Jenson’s 113th race and considered well-deserved by the Formula One fraternity. Jenson also outpaced his experienced team mate for much of the year, particularly in the first half of the season. Rubens had trouble adjusting to the new team and this gave Jenson the initial edge. However, Barrichello did improve and started to challenge Jenson towards the end of the season. Ultimately, the team could not reproduce their 2004 triumph, but 56 points saw Jenson finish the season in 6th place.
Honda changed marketing approach for 2007, removing the sponsors from the car and instead getting people to make a pledge to help global climate change. However, a change of livery was the least of the team’s worries as the RA107 proved to be hopeless. In fact the car was so terrible Rubens Barrichello didn’t even score one point during the year. Button only managed six and it was his second worse season to date. For much of the year the team followed their sister squad Super Aguri, who amazingly were doing better with Honda’s 2006 car. Jenson’s highest placed finish in 2007 was fifth at the Chinese Grand Prix, courtesy of the changeable weather conditions.
Continuing his partnership at Honda with Rubens Barrichello, Button went into the 2008 season with the hope of putting a difficult year behind him. However, it was initially very clear the RA108 wasn’t a great car and from the first three races of the season, Jenson could only manage one P10. Points came his way in Spain, but little did the Briton know at the time that these points would be also be his last for the season. The car continued to let Button down and even the introduction of famed Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn could do much to help the ailing team. With the car continuing to lose pace to its rivals, Honda began holding meetings to discuss their future in the sport.
With the championship over and Button resting on only 3 points, Honda decided to withdraw from the sport with immediate effect. The decision to pull the plug sent shockwaves around the sport and potentially left several hundred people without jobs. True to his spirit though, Jenson Button, on holiday at the time of the decision, returned to England and visited the factory. His encouragement of the men and women still working on the 2009 car helped morale to be maintained. Behind the scenes, potential buyers of the team were grilled, and mostly sent away – Honda would only sell the team to someone worthy of continuing the squad in the longterm.
Eventually, it came down to Ross Brawn, Nick Fry and a handful of other senior management at HondaF1 to put together a deal that would see them own and operate the team. The squad was renamed to Brawn GP and Mercedes offered an engine deal to help the team out during their first year. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were maintained as drivers and the car eventually managed to get to a test session.
Quite simply, the Brawn BGP 001 blew the competition out of the water. The car was instantly a second faster than their nearest rival. Despite having no sponsors, an largely untested car and a slightly diminished team due to cutbacks, Brawn rolled up in Australia and locked-out the front row of the grid in spectacular style. Both drivers would continue their positions throughout the race and Jenson Button climbed onto the Australian podium to collect his second winners trophy, Ross Brawn collecting his first on behalf of the team.
The season would continue in a similar fashion, with Button taking six victories from the opening seven races. A lull in performance in the middle caused concern for all, particularly as Red Bull Racing began to develop and improve their car. A legal squabble over the ‘double diffuser’ employed by Brawn and two other teams threatened to end the dominance, but Ross Brawn successfully proved the part’s legality and the other teams were forced to redesign and implement their own version, critical to the overall performance of the car.
With one race left to run, Button secured his first driver’s world championship in Brazil, and with a stellar run from team mate Rubens Barrichello, Brawn collected their first constructors. To say the pitlane was flooded from joyful tears was an understatement as all involved in the sport offered their congratulations to the team. The story of Button and Brawn in 2009 has gone down as one of the greatest in the sport’s history, from almost nothing to achieving the ultimate goal in less than 12 months.
Unfortunately though, Ross Brawn wasn’t lying when he said that he only brought the team to ensure its continuation. Ross said he would sell as soon as he could and that opportunity arose in late 2009 when engine partner Mercedes decided they wanted to return to the sport as a constructor. Brawn and Fry have maintained a 25% share in the squad with the remainder being owned by Daimler AG. The squad was rebranded, renamed and both drivers replaced.
With the Brawn team having been sold on to German motor manufacturer Mercedes, Jenson took the opportunity to bid farewell to his championship winning squad and took a seat at McLaren alongside former world champion and fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton. The impending move caused widespread speculation in the global media, particularly as Button was replaced at Mercedes by returning multiple world champion Michael Schumacher. Testing went well for the new MP4-25 and both drivers enjoyed equal treatment in the lead up to the 2010 season.
Beyond Formula One
Outside of Formula One, Jenson enjoys mountain biking and body boarding, and is a keen fan of Bristol City football club. He resides in Monaco, and enjoys the presence of his father at most races in the season.