What’s on this week
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.