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Button's career comes full circle with McLaren switch

Last updated on: March 4, 2010 16:52 IST

Button steps into 'Lions' Den'

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Jenson Button was almost a write-off before he seized the Formula One title with Brawn last year and he starts the new season with critics again ready to scrap his chances.

The conventional wisdom has it that the 30-year-old Briton is on a hiding to nothing against compatriot Lewis Hamilton, the younger team-mate who wants to take back the championship he won in 2008.

Some, such as retired triple champion Jackie Stewart, have warned Button that he is making a big mistake in stepping into the "Lions' Den". Four other champions polled in F1 Racing magazine this month all voted for Hamilton as top dog.

That may not be the case and it is certainly not how Button sees it. Like 1996 world champion compatriot Damon Hill before him, he is a lot quicker and more accomplished than many give him credit for.


Image: Jenson Button
Photographs: Reuters
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Battle of the Britons at McLaren

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In many respects the pressure is off, even if the McLaren line-up is presented as a battle of Britons that has to end up with a winner and loser.

There has been a spring in Button's step since he started preparing for next week's season-opener in Bahrain, a smile on his face and a new ring of confidence since he took the crown in Brazil last year.

Much is made of McLaren being Hamilton's second family, a team that has backed the 25-year-old Briton since he was a boy in go-karting.

However the first Formula One car that Button ever drove was a McLaren and he has always been a fan of the team, even if it has taken him more than a decade to turn the wheel full circle.


Image: Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton

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Second chances are rare in Formula One

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The reason for that has to do with circumstances, early reputations, the fickle nature of the sport and McLaren's previous reluctance to take on a driver not already a proven winner.

Second chances in Formula One are also about as rare as commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone beinga outfoxed in a business deal.

Button was locked into a long-term deal with Honda and did not figure on McLaren's radar when they needed a second driver to partner double world champion Fernando Alonso for the 2007 season. They ended up signing Hamilton.

"If you take out the recognised top three (drivers), one of whom (Ferrari's Michael Schumacher) retired, we felt that in looking at the others...there was no-one who really shone," former team boss Ron Dennis said at the time.


Image: Lewis Hamilton

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'We have professional, dedicated drivers in Button and Hamilton'

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At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone that same year, Button had a nightmare in his Honda while Hamilton excelled in the GP2 support series.

"After a terrific win on home soil, one British race star deservedly milked the applause from 80,000 fans," declared the Sun newspaper's race report. "And then there was Jenson Button."

Until last season, nobody would have given Button any chance of driving for McLaren. But that was before he won six of the first seven races of 2009 and opinions changed.

"In Jenson and Lewis, we feel we not only have the fastest pairing on the grid but also the two most complete, professional and dedicated drivers in Formula One," McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said in November.


Image: Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button

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'Button is exceptional'

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Button, who first tested a McLaren in 1999 as a prize for winning a young driver award, made his race debut with Williams as a 20-year-old in 2000.

After a shining start, his star began to wane. Moving to Benetton and then Renault, he picked up an undeserved reputation for being a playboy more interested in the trappings of success than achievement itself.

Ditched in 2002, he moved to BAR/Honda where he finally became a lucky winner in 2006 after 113 starts.

When Honda pulled out in 2008, Button's career appeared to have hit the buffers - only to be revived in sensational fashion by the team that emerged from the ashes.

He has matured over the years but the talent is the same.

"He's an exceptional driver: very controlled and very smooth, and he has a real depth of knowledge and experience," Hamilton said recently.


Image: Jenson Button

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'McLaren was first team I drove for'

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Button could have earned more by staying within his comfort zone at Brawn, now Mercedes, even if they were in no hurry to conclude a deal before quickly signing up Michael Schumacher as a replacement.

Instead, he opted for a different adventure.

"In your whole career, you are going up against the best in the world, especially when you get to Formula One," he told reporters recently.

"I wanted a new challenge...I wanted to race with McLaren, whom I first actually drove for. It was my first Formula One car and a team that I used to watch when I was a kid. And the history, and what they have achieved in their time in the sport, is immense.

"There are many reasons why I made the switch and for me it's a step forward in my career because it really gives me a buzz and the excitement to achieve again in a very different environment."


Image: Jenson Button

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