“Darts were thrown in the paddock”
Forget the word retirement,” said Mclaren boss Ron Dennis last month. “It’s not in the vocabulary.” And yet, you could be forgiven for thinking that Jenson Button has already begun his farewell tour. Last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix marked Button’s 300th grand prix start. That milestone has only been bettered by two other drivers in the sport’s history – Rubens Barrichello leads the way with 322, while Michael Schumacher has 306 starts.
To celebrate the occasion, Mclaren’s normally grey and austere paddock hospitality unit was transformed into a traditional English pub, replete with garish wallpaper, dart board and speciality beers: Ol’brawny and Somerset Scrumper.
As the hot Malaysia sun set on the Sepang paddock last Friday evening, darts were thrown and beers were sunk as Button was presented with a cake decorated as a Union Flag and was visited by well-wishers from rival teams, including Hamilton and Rosberg, Ricciardo and Massa.
Although it was to mark his 300th start it had the feel of a leaving do. Just five races remain this season and there is no guarantee that after Abu Dhabi, Button will ever start a grand prix again.
He has a contract next year to continue with Mclaren – in an ambassadorial role – as his seat is being taken by the young Belgian racer Stoffel Vandoorne. Then in 2018, the option is with the team whether they want to extend that deal, or put him back in a race seat – all dependent on what Fernando Alonso chooses to do when his three year deal expires at the end of 2017.
There was a changing of the guard in 2000 when a fresh-faced Button took the Williams seat vacated by 33-year-old Alex Zanardi. Back then, the 20-year-old immediately impressed onlookers with his pace, but his early career was characterised by poor machinery that failed to do justice to his talent.
In early 2006, I wrote a cover story for Motorsport News that stated: “Jenson won’t win for three years”, the basis of the story coming from Ferrari’s Ross Brawn who gave his opinions on the on-going problems at Honda.
Given that his title success – with Brawn himself – came exactly three years later it should have been brilliantly prescient. As it was the story came to haunt me just two months later when Jenson brilliantly won in that wet/dry thriller at the Hungaroring…
For many, it will seem very odd not to have Button around next season. And despite him claiming that he’s happy not living to “Bernie’s schedule” I imagine that it will hit him hard when the field lines up to take the start without him in Melbourne next March.
The reality is, we all have to take retirement one day, whatever it is we do. On Saturday evening, Hamilton summed it up well. “I remember sitting at home watching his first grand prix. I was still in high school and hoping one day that it was me who would be racing in F1. He will be missed, but one day all you guys will be gone and someone else will take your spot. The same with me. Life will move on, it’s just the way it is…”
But according to Ron Dennis, it isn’t retirement. Not just yet.
Another milestone was reached in Malaysia when former MN editor and F1 reporter and veteran journalist David Tremayne reached his 500th grand prix. From all of us at MN, congrats DJT! The cake was delicious…
Josh Files ended his TCR Germany season with victory in the first race at Hockenheim, taking the championship in the process.
The 25-year-old Norwich driver lead from start to finish in a tricky race, which was made easier by his closest title rival – Harald Proczyk – getting a poor getaway in the wet.
Files – driving for Target Competition in a Honda Civic – only had Dennis Strandberg for company and pulled out an early gap. Strandberg closed, but a couple of quick laps eased the 2013 UK Clio Cup champion and Eurocup Clio champion home to the title in his first full season in the series.