Why Jen­son’s too good to quit

An­thony Rowl­in­son / 12.14

F1 Racing - - NEWS -

Back in 1997, I was sent to write a story to find out who among that gen­er­a­tion of karters might emerge as the next Bri­tish F1 world cham­pion. Scrab­bling around a few dusty pad­docks, look­ing for a di­a­mond in the rough, I bumped into Jen­son But­ton, a noodly teen, skinny as a daddy-lon­glegs, but in the opin­ion of those-in-thekart­ing-know, a young man des­tined for great things.

I didn’t think any­thing more of JB for the next year or two, but a name like his was hard to for­get, so when he broke through first as a ma­jor For­mula Ford, then a For­mula 3 tal­ent, he be­came lodged in the grey mat­ter.

It wasn’t long be­fore F1 got a sniff: first Prost, then Wil­liams, of­fer­ing him a chance to dis­play those so-sup­ple skills at the wheel of some­thing prop­erly pow­er­ful. And by 2000, of course, he’d won a seat at Wil­liams, beat­ing Bruno Jun­queira (re­mem­ber him?) in a shoot-out for a seat along­side Ralf Schu­macher. And the rest… well, it’s been quite a story, one doc­u­mented in de­tail by F1 Rac­ing over the past 15 sea­sons: from the night­mare of Re­nault, to the joy of that first win in Hun­gary, 2006; the lost years at Honda, the Brawn epiphany in 2009, be­fore, lat­terly, a largely set­tled time with McLaren – a team where he’s been hand-in-glove for at least three of five sea­sons.

This year, how­ever, the mood in Wok­ing has changed. With Alonso wait­ing in the wings and a shift in man­age­ment tone now Ron Den­nis is back in charge, the con­tent­ment of pre­vi­ous sea­sons has gone. At the time of writ­ing, McLaren had still not of­fered But­ton any kind of driv­ing con­tract for 2015 and it seems likely that Jen­son will take mat­ters into his own hands by seek­ing a drive in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship.

And that, in our opin­ion, would be a cry­ing shame. As you can read in David Tre­mayne’s ex­cel­lent anal­y­sis of But­ton’s con­tri­bu­tion to F1 over more than a decade (p32), he’s too good for the sport to lose sim­ply be­cause he’s fallen out of fash­ion at Wok­ing. Classy, quick, a fan­tas­tic am­bas­sador for F1 and an elder states­man who has ma­tured since those days when he was a baby-faced ju­nior who looked too young for a driv­ing li­cence, let alone an F1 seat – this is what Jen­son But­ton, 2014spec, con­tin­ues to of­fer. F1 would be poorer for his loss.

Another driver who knows just how it feels when things turn sour at McLaren is Juan Pablo Mon­toya, who quit the team ac­ri­mo­niously back in 2006 to re­turn to the US race scene. Our man Mau­rice Hamil­ton re­cently caught up with JPM over lunch – and you won’t find a more en­ter­tain­ing read (p78) about a much-loved, much-missed for­mer ace.

Mon­toya, like But­ton, made his F1 de­but with Wil­liams (re­mem­ber Brazil ’01? How could you for­get that pass on Schu­macher?) and their resur­gence this year with the fleet and el­e­gant FW36 is the sub­ject of a tech­ni­cal anal­y­sis on page 56. As any true F1 fan knows, the sport’s a bet­ter place when Wil­liams are in the mix and their re­turn to front-run­ning ac­tion has been one of the feel-good sto­ries of the sea­son. You can even find out what Felipe Massa thinks about it on page 62. Pass­ing Alonso? “Yes, I was very happy…”

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