Why Is The Grass Always Greener?

Why Is The Grass Always Greener?

This post was inspired by Quofda, a new site set up by the 9rules crew where they ask a question each day and bloggers answer on their own sites. I had considered answering today’s question on my personal site but quickly realised just how relevant it is to Formula One, and reminded me of one of my sadder memories of the sport. The link to the question is just below, along with my answer. So without further ado, here goes…

Why Is The Grass Always Greener

In 2004 Jenson Button was driving for BAR, a team on the rise and on the verge of great success. Jenson had been with the squad since 2003 after he was given the boot from Williams. Perhaps given the boot is too stronger phrase to use; Button hadn’t been sacked but instead asked to move aside for a short while in order to develop his skills. He did at the time of being at BAR still hold a contract of sorts with the Oxford-based team.

That season in 2004 was an absolute belter for Button and his team. In a time when Ferrari ruled the roost, the other teams were left to squabble for the remainder of the points. But for almost the entire season it looked as though BAR‘s hold on the podium was unrelenting. Although Ferrari were winning (they won 15 of the 18 races) BAR took 7 podiums, all with Button. They finished the year in second, a significant improvement from fifth the year previous. Everything, it seemed, was rosey in the BAR camp.

But it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t by far. In August 2004, Button announced a two year deal to return to his former home Williams. The Briton never hid his desire to return to Grove, saying that owner Frank Williams had given him his break in 2000, and that he wanted to drive for a team that would give him a real shot at the title. To say the jaws of the Formula One community simultaneously hit the deck is an understatement. The move simply didn’t make sense considering the team hadn’t won a title since 1997 and experienced shakey results through the time Button was at Benetton and BAR. In 2004 when Button was spraying champagne, Williams finished the season in fourth with just four podiums.

BAR, who were on the verge of been bought out by Japanese giant Honda, insisted Jenson had a valid contract with them and an argument ensued. Button wanted to leave, BAR wanted him to stay. The issue wasn’t dealt with in a nasty manner, but it did end up going to the Contracts Recognition Board to decide. The CRB favoured with BAR and Jenson had to stay put.

Jenson Button - 2006 Hungarian Grand PrixSo, was Jenson staying at BAR ultimately a good thing? Well, 2005 was a bit of a disaster; the team produced a lemon of a car and Button only stepped onto the podium twice. By the time 2006 rolled around the sale of the team to Honda had been completed and fresh investment saw an improvement. The team found their feet again and in Hungary Button took his first win. To compare with Williams through the same time period, Button was better off staying put. Team Willy only managed fifth in the 2005 constructors championship, falling to eighth in 2006.

But the point is that Jenson wanted to move thinking the grass would be greener. He felt that Williams was his home, maybe he felt he owed a debt to Sir Frank, or maybe the Williams factory was closer to his home than Brackley, who knows? Drivers switch teams all the time, believing they’ll be better off in a different environment. That may indeed be the case, and careers flourish with different coloured overalls on. But more often than most will admit, moving around and failing to dedicate your efforts to one team can lead to disappointment. Getting to know new staff, how a car handles and the general ambience of a team is a difficult and long process, only really comparable to making friends in a pressurised situation.

Perhaps this is why I’m thankful Lewis Hamilton has signed a deal with McLaren that will (on the face of it) last until the end of 2012. McLaren are currently on a high (controversies aside) because they have a winning package. But the Woking team has never been entirely stable, suffering long droughts of poor results. The longest of which lasted, to date, nine years. Of course 2007 could be considered the end of their drought, but for the statisticians out there, the team spent 1975 to 1983 without a constructors trophy as well.

So to answer the question, I would have to say that the grass isn’t always greener and often it is better to focus on what you’ve got rather than starting again. But we are all human at the end of the day, and we will always be looking over the fence to see what our neighbours are doing.


  • Agreed, it is so much easier to lust after something someone else has than to appreciate what you have yourself – but that’s the culture we live in at the moment, advertisers ram it down our throats 24/7 that what we have is useless and we need this new thing to improve our lives.

    I assume it’s the same for the F1 guys come contract renewal time, every other team will make amazing promises on performance then it’s up to the driver to decide who can actually deliver.

    Both Jenson, and Alonso to a certain extent, seem to have been the biggest culprits of making (or trying to make) the switch between teams which have gone spectacularly wrong.

    At least Alonso was actually free to join his new team, I’ve a feeling Jenson will forever be remembered for his contract fiascos!

  • there was another twist in the Button/BAR-Honda/Williams saga when Button had to pay quite a buck to Williams to get released from his contract (after WIlliams lost BMW its grass definitelly was not greener πŸ™‚ )

    He got his 1st win in 2006 (worth the money probably) and then the car was greener in 2007 (not worth the money) πŸ™‚

    In Alonso’s case (Renault to McLaren move) it was hardly a move to a greener grass. At the time the deal was announced McLaren was nowhere near Renault and it actually looked like a step back for Alonso, as it looks now when he moves in the opposite direction.

  • But then again Fernando brings at least 0.6 seconds per lap to any team he joins Milos, so Renault should be okay again this year… πŸ˜‰

  • @Craig:

    Agreed, it is so much easier to lust after something someone else has than to appreciate what you have yourself.

    You still need a Mac. ;P Good point bringing up the Alonso situation.

    @Milos: Good point about the money that had to be paid, it is understood it came from Jenson’s own pocket as well. Justly deserved in my mind for having caused the nightmare in the first place.

    I think Alonso’s move, at the time, was definitely greener for him. In fact, it still is to a degree; he got to fight for the championship down to the wire. Renault were a different kettle of fish last year. But ultimately, was it a good decision? We will never know, but I would like to think that he could have gone to the wire in a R27, although it would have been difficult, perhaps more-so than in a McLaren.

    Do you think Alonso turned up at Renault on January 1st and said “bloomin’ ‘eck, I leave you alone for a year and look what happens!”

  • Loved how you took the Quofda in your own direction here Ollie. Can’t speak on the racing stuff since that isn’t my forte, but it does always seem that athletes in all sports wish to jump to better opportunities without realizing they may already be in the best position possible.

  • Hmm, me need a Mac? Never! Although I was in an Apple Store three times at the weekend… πŸ˜‰

    Had Alonso not been “returning home” to Renault and signed instead for Red Bull or some other team, I would imagine that his first few tests with the new team would have been quite tense. His engineers would no doubt have been expecting the 0.6 seconds he is claimed to have said he is able to bring to a team (I’ve a feeling he was probably misquoted or taken out of context personally), but I dare say Renault will go easier on him if he doesn’t quite live up to that.

    I don’t think anyone can blame him for moving to McLaren, at the time I seem to recall everyone thought it was a good piece of business on both sides – funny how things can change though!

    As for Button, he made a stupid mistake with Williams and it was only right that he was made to pay for it – literally!

  • Hey Scrivs: Yeah, athletes, and in fact people in the general sporting world are always moving around trying to better themselves the ‘easy’ way. Sometimes it must work though, I’m sure you can think of a few football-related examples.

    To steer it back to racing though, I’ll bring up Schumacher’s ten year tenure at Ferrari, resulting in five driver titles and six constructors. The first car he drove in 1996 was diabolical. Truly, a very bad car. But nine seasons later he retired one of the world’s most successful sportsman. Swings and roundabouts.

    @Craig: The 0.6s thing just makes me chuckle. If that is the case (and like you I think he was mis-interpreted), the grass will always be greener for him no matter who he drove for.

  • Alonso’s famous 0.6 secs. did not actually start with him – it was Briatore who was moaning about the performance of the R27 when he mentioned that Alonso could have given them that exact boost in performance (on which track, I wonder…). Fernando obviously quite fancied the idea and made it his own thereafter.

  • Hmmm, just realised I have another comment.

    For F1 drivers, the grass is always greener for a simple and logical reason. To be an F1 driver, you have to believe that you’re the best – so anyone who beats you must have an unfair advantage. Usually that is put down to the car and so you want a better car to prove that you were beaten by superior technology, not greater skill.

    Thus, if you’re in a Force India, you leap at the chance to drive a Toro Rosso; if in last year’s Renault, you quite fancy your chances in a McLaren. It’s at the top that it becomes a bit of a gamble – as someone mentioned, everyone (except me) thought Alonso was mad to leave Renault for McLaren when he did. But it turned out to be a pretty good decision (disregarding personality clashes). When the competition is that fierce between teams, you weigh the odds and make your bet (if you have the choice). Get lucky and you look like a genius; get it wrong and everyone says, “I told you so”.

  • You have to remember Alonso went to McLaren at a time when Renault would not commit to staying in F1.

    If staying put is the best policy should Alonso have stayed at Minardi? Alomost every driver has had to move around to get a good seat.

    McLaren has a history of success with drivers who have gone there after driving for other teams near the front of the grid. Lauda after his short retirement. Prost after Renault fired him albeit he originally made his debut with McLaren. Senna had won races at Lotus.

    As poker players say. You gotta know when to hold ’em, know ehen to fold ’em, know when to walk awa and know when to run. Button should have runa away from Honda three years ago because they are going nowhere.

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