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…
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.
So, 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.