and his team-mate Rubens Barrichello in front of Honda’s Paddock Club guests at every race and, frankly, it couldn’t have been something JB looked forward to. Having to break from race matters to chat to people who weren’t necessarily passionate about car racing must have been unsettling. But, as soon as he entered the room, Jenson had them hanging on his every word as he spoke with warmth, humour and authority. A real professional who realises that, in this commercial age, there is more to being a top racing driver than just being fast on the track.
Personality and charisma are hard to define but, as a motor racing icon, Jenson’s got both, just like David Beckham who, as a top footballer with style, rings the bell even for ignoramuses like me. And that’s something McLaren, as a very commercially oriented team, must surely appreciate from a driver who could contribute so much from 15 years of experience with Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda, Brawn and themselves.
Jenson’s had good times and bad times, from his stunning debut with Williams at the early age of 20 until now. That great first year in F1 was followed by ups and downs with his other teams, with just that one brilliant win in Hungary 2006 until his superb world championship-winning season with Brawn in 2009 and then a mixed bag of success and failure with McLaren.
Just look at who Jenson’s taken on and beaten over the course of his Formula 1 career, starting with world champion Jacques Villeneuve whom he blew away at BAR; his former McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton; four time world champion Sebastian Vettel; the great Michael Schumacher; Fernando Alonso; and Kimi Räikkönen. How has he done it? Like the rest of the superstars he’s a thinking driver with enormous talent, brain capacity to spare, a smooth and seemingly effortless style that treats his tyres with sympathy and, even more than most, an uncanny ability to read race conditions and respond to his advantage. All he needs is the right car.
There aren’t many who have been at the top level for 15 years but Jenson has and his hunger to continue and succeed is as strong as ever. Popular with everyone he meets, experienced and successful and with his talent undimmed, he still has so much to offer.