Editorial, December 2000

Today it’s news, tomorrow it’s history. Formula One sensation Jenson Button is too young to have much of a history, but he has made plenty of news over the past year. What’s important, though, is that he has a great and long future ahead of him.

It’s not so much what he has done impressive enough in itselfit’s how he’s done it that has turned heads and sparked talk of world titles and massive influence to come.

The Formula One paddock can be a cold place, secretive, rigid and conservative, and those on the outside looking in complain of a dearth of characters. I’m afraid that’s not true.

At the sport’s core lies a crowd of petrolheads who like nothing more than going round in small circles at high speed. True, they inhabit air-conditioned motorhomes and tap at laptops with more computing power than blasted Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin to the moon but, if this were 1960, the same crowd would be gathered around a tiny stove at Cooper’s draughty Hayfield Road HQ cursing the ‘Old Man’ for being so fight-fisted. If this were 1930, they would be checking the amount of fuel on board by dipping a stick into the tank, while drawing heavily on a Craven A.

And if this were 1956, Jenson Button would have handed over his Lancia Ferrari D50 to Juan Fangio and cheered the Argentine star as he clinched his fourth world fide, his third in a row. He’s that kind of bloke. There are scurrilous stories of his first year, as yet untold, that will definitely cause a chuckle when they are unearthed for our amusement in the December 2030 issue of Motor Sport: the sort of anecdotes that endear Hawthorn and Collins to us -just updated.

There is a chance, however, a slim chance, that we might not have to wait that long. For I sense a slight change in the paddock. As the drivers get younger and the sport’s power-brokers, mainstays, get older, the generation gap is widening to grandfatherly proportions. And there can be no doubt that Button’s skill on the track, and refreshing approach off it, made him the most liked driver at Williams since the hard-living, harddriving Alan Jones bossed Sir Frank and Patrick about like no driver has dared to since.

As the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Luciano Burti prepare to join Button in the Formula One fray, might Formula One’s political correctness police allow them more scope to express themselves, imprint their spirit on the sport? They might not have any choice.

This is a lot to ask of Button, a boy-turned-man who has plenty to do learning a new team at Benetton next season. But he should rest easy: all he has to do is be himself.

On a personal note, I would like to wish our ace Art Editor, Simon Wallis, all the best on his next project and future career.