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As at every season finale there was much of note going on in Brazil, with Mark Webber’s retirement from F1 and Felipe Massa’s departure from Ferrari among the key events. It was also the end of the V8 era, and post-race some teams marked it by revving their engines to the point of destruction.
By total coincidence another driver reached a milestone that had nothing to do with it being the last race of the season. At the conclusion of his 14th season of Grand Prix racing Jenson Button recorded his 247th start, and in so doing he passed the record of participations by a Briton, held for many years by his old pal David Coulthard. He’s been a fixture for so long that it’s hard to believe Jenson is still only 33, and for his age he has an extraordinary level of experience, and he is still a great asset for McLaren.
Prompted by the team Coulthard agreed that the occasion should not go unmarked, so he gatecrashed McLaren’s regular Saturday afternoon media Q&A session, and grabbed the microphone as things kicked off. Having qualified only 15th – he would later gain a spot from his team-mate’s gearbox penalty – Jenson could be forgiven for being a little downbeat, but he’s a glass half full guy, and he joined in a fun bit of banter that very nearly strayed into over-18s only territory.
DC: “I’ll be frank with you Jenson, I’m a bit pissed off, because you are about to enter your 247th Grand Prix, and I thought at least I would keep the record of 246 starts, the most of a British driver. You’ve got a World Championship, you’ve got more wins than me, and you’re stealing that from me as well.”
JB: “But you’ve still got your looks!”
DC: “That’s a good line that, thanks very much. But in my defence there’s a couple of records that you’re still behind in, but you’re going to do those as well.”
JB: “Let’s not mention them here…” [cue much laughter from the assembled journos].
DC: “You haven’t got the results on the track this year that we know that McLaren can deliver, but I’m sure that you’re going to have those in the future. I just wanted to congratulate you on being on the cusp of being the most experienced British driver on the race track. You’re still a little bit behind in other areas. But well done, congratulations. How do you feel, that’s the first question?”
JB: “Really good right now… What a way to do it! I’ve been through a lot, DC knows that in a career that spans 13-14 years you go through a lot of ups and downs. You experience great times, a lot of special occasions, winning a world championship, being a driver here for the last four years [at this point a team member offered JB a glass]. Champagne, thank you… You see I thought today was shit, but it’s not! This is the best day… Lots of ups and downs, but the good thing is I feel I’ve had more ups than downs. An enjoyable career so far. It’s scary how fast it goes by though, isn’t it DC? I’m enjoying myself. This year has been very difficult for us, but I’m still loving racing, and I’ll be loving the fight this winter to take us back to the front, hopefully. So thank you for that DC.”
Jenson Button in Brazil
One win (2012)
Two thirds (2006, 2011)
In the points nine out of 13 Grands Prix
Clinched the 2009 championship at Interlagos
This was great stuff, and a reminder that over the past couple of decades the UK has been blessed with a couple of great ambassadors for our sport. A cake decorated with 247 written in Smarties then appeared. Usually in F1 such things end up plastered over the face of the recipient, but this being McLaren, it remained on the plate.
Once we got into the serious business of the press gathering, Button was typically upbeat about prospects for the race.
“In Q2 when there was more water on the circuit we just couldn’t find our feet really, just sliding all over the place, and I think that was the case for both of us. If you look at the traces we’re driving the car very differently, but it comes out with the same lap time. We’re trying everything we can out there, but we’re not able to get something to work in those conditions. Whether it would have worked if it was wetter, and we were running the wet tyre, I don’t know.
“Tomorrow the race will be a little bit drier, or not as wet, so I think we have a good opportunity tomorrow. A tough day and not a great way to end our qualifying season, but there is still tomorrow, and I think we can still have a great race.”
Even Jenson probably thought at that stage that a great race might see him get up to eighth or thereabouts, but in fact he put in a storming drive to fourth. On a green track, and with no dry practice, McLaren hit the sweet spot – with a little help from the simulator and the engineering team back in Woking. He was one of only two drivers to start on the harder tyre, although team mate Pérez also made good progress on the medium.
“I don’t know if it was the tyres in the first stint, because the option had more grip. But I have to say after yesterday being very negative about our temperatures and what have you, the pressures of the tyres, today the guys did a great job if getting the temperatures and pressures right for the start, and that was it really. I think we just had the tyres working for the first couple of laps. It was a lot of fun.
“We were never quick enough to challenge for a podium, but to come from 14th to finish fourth, I’m over the moon, our best result of the year. The car went well. We didn’t do any testing, maybe that’s why, but it obviously showed that our simulator worked, so that’s positive. A very, very difficult year for the whole team, so good to end up with fourth and sixth. I want to say I’m sad to see Checo go, but things change, and drivers move on. I’m sure he’s going to find a good place for next year.”
It was a memorable weekend for Jenson on and off track, one that reminded us all that he remains not just a top flight racing driver, but a valuable team player. A guy with the experience to help push the team forward into the challenging season that will be 2014.
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