JAMES ROBERTS

“Darts were thrown in the paddock”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

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.

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