So how will Button approach his role at Williams? It would be a major surprise if he didn’t dive in and get his hands properly dirty, because he’s not the sort of guy to do anything half-heartedly. In fact, here’s a prediction: I reckon Button could be a future Christian Horner (albeit with a slightly more successful driving career behind him!), either at Williams or elsewhere. In fact, Jenson might well turn out to be one of the most significant and high-profile figures in racing over the course of the next couple of decades.
Why? Well, we’ve already covered his love and commitment to racing. But there’s more to what he has to offer than that.
I first met him as a slightly shy 18-year-old, during his first season racing cars in British Formula Ford. Back in 1998, his pure talent was all too obvious, but what also soon emerged was his capacity to soak up and deal with any challenge that presented itself. Just two years later, after one season in Formula 3, he was a teenage F1 driver with Williams. Everything was coming at him so fast, including the knowledge that he was likely to lose his drive to Juan Pablo Montoya for 2001. But the composure rarely broke, even in that sophomore season when he’d moved to Benetton and endured a nightmare spiral that could have ended his career right there. Instead, he dug in, learnt important lessons from a tough experience and came back better.
It was during his years at BAR/Honda that Button’s true leadership qualities emerged. This was a team with the potential to be a genuine ‘big beast’, as the title year in its guise as Brawn GP and more emphatically as Mercedes-AMG subsequently proved. But Button’s influence from the cockpit, particularly in those pre-Ross Brawn years, should not be underestimated. Increasingly confident not only in his knowledge and technical understanding of F1, Button stepped up as a pivotal, almost totem figure at that team – which is partly why he was ready to become world champion when the opportunity so unexpectedly presented itself in 2009.
It’s such nuggets of vast experience working with great people that make Button a man not to be underestimated. Time spent with Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Brawn, Ron Dennis and the many engineers he has gelled with – this is the foundation of what he brings to Jenson Team Rocket RJN, to Williams and possibly to other F1 teams in the future.
He also knows his way around a paddock in terms of the politics, having paid a high price for his education. It was hard not to smile when it was announced he’d rejoined Williams given that this deal represented ‘third time lucky’. After that single season in 2000, he remained tied to the team and was essentially on loan to Benetton/Renault, and by 2005 was ready to go back to where he started, making a call that the Williams-BMW partnership had more potential than BAR-Honda – despite the success he’d enjoyed with the latter in 2004.