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Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - MATT KEW

At the 2012 Chi­nese Grand Prix, Mclaren team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Jen­son But­ton tried their hand at broad­cast­ing for a light-hearted pre-race fea­ture aired by the BBC. Hamilton took on the role of di­rec­tor, while But­ton was handed the mi­cro­phone and roamed the

For­mula 1 pit­lane con­duct­ing in­ter­views along­side David Coulthard.

Af­ter a gen­uinely funny piece, but with a fair share of mishaps, But­ton said: “This has made me re­alise that I want to race for longer be­cause [pre­sent­ing] is so hard!”

Six years later, his out­look seems to have changed. He was back to give pun­ditry an­other crack as he joined Sky’s al­ready size­able pre­sen­ter line-up for its cov­er­age of the Bri­tish Grand Prix last week­end.

Orig­i­nally, the 2009 world cham­pion was due to race a Jaguar XJR-9 Group C car at the Le Mans Clas­sic. While that would have been in­fin­itely cooler, But­ton was ul­ti­mately stel­lar in front of the cam­era.

Back in the Septem­ber 29 2016 is­sue of Au­tosport, Matt Beer dis­cussed what But­ton should do in the next phase of his life af­ter an­nounc­ing his part-re­tire­ment from F1. For his in­tel­li­gence and like­abil­ity, “the man needs to be on tele­vi­sion,” wrote Beer. “[Martin] Brun­dle and Coulthard were ex­cel­lent grand prix driv­ers but it was But­ton who be­came a world cham­pion. He might just have the long-term po­ten­tial to out­shine them be­hind the mic too.”

Last week­end did noth­ing to change that per­cep­tion. And we re­ally got to see But­ton at work. Al­though he pre­dom­i­nantly served as a con­ven­tional pre­sen­ter, he did get stuck in with Brun­dle for the grid walk and in­ter­viewed driv­ers on their pa­rade lap. Sky also cut to him mid-race for an in­sight into Hamilton’s re­cov­ery drive and, af­ter the che­quered flag, he could be found roam­ing the me­dia pen.

Dur­ing a pre-recorded in­ter­view in the back of a minibus, he quizzed Hamilton on his love life. While we didn’t learn any­thing of any rel­e­vance, it did show the ex­tent of But­ton’s rap­port with the driv­ers and how that puts him in prime po­si­tion to ask dar­ing ques­tions that An­thony David­son wouldn’t. It was hardly ex­pert anal­y­sis, but the fact that Hamilton re­sponded shows how well-liked But­ton re­mains in the pad­dock. That could be key to ex­tract­ing more telling an­swers should he re­turn.

But­ton’s nat­u­ral hu­mour trans­lated well, but he wasn’t at risk of be­com­ing a car­i­ca­ture – a crit­i­cism that has been rightly aimed at some of Sky’s other driv­ers-turned-pre­sen­ters.

“HE’S IN A PRIME PO­SI­TION TO ASK DAR­ING QUES­TIONS OTHERS WOULDN’T”

Let’s not for­get, too, that his knowl­edge of driv­ing an F1 car is still up to date. Hav­ing deputised for Fer­nando Alonso at the Monaco Grand Prix last year as the Spa­niard took on the In­di­anapo­lis 500, But­ton of­fers an in­sight into driv­ing the more ag­gres­sive cars brought in for 2017. Paul di Resta has that too af­ter stand­ing in for an ill Felipe Massa at the Hun­gar­ian Grand Prix, but as a pack­age, But­ton’s the more charis­matic and en­gag­ing fig­ure to have on TV.

It was, how­ever, dis­ap­point­ing that af­ter such a solid de­but, his de­par­ture from our screens was some­what un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous. Es­corted by Sky reg­u­lar Natalie Pinkham, he fin­ished an in­ter­view with race win­ner Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and that was the last the au­di­ence got to see of him. It would have been a more rounded fin­ish to bring him back with the rest of the team for the fi­nal min­utes and a salu­tory sig­noff. But this nit­pick­ing is tes­ta­ment to a fine per­for­mance from But­ton and the com­mend­able level of ex­po­sure he got.

Bri­tish F1 cov­er­age isn’t ex­actly strug­gling for ex-driv­ers who can bark opin­ions into a mi­cro­phone or pa­trol a pit­lane. Nev­er­the­less, if his Super GT and World En­durance cal­en­dars al­low, But­ton would be a worthy ad­di­tion to that list.

In the fi­nal races of 2016 But­ton looked to have pre­ma­turely checked out of F1, but that was as a driver. Now, he clearly rel­ishes be­ing back in F1’s lime­light.

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