“He’s over ’ere Japanese fishin’ – small rods, small fish!” John Button quips in his gruff Cockney way.
17.05 on Sunday in Canada and McLaren’s post-barnstorming-victory celebrations are in full swing for Lewis Hamilton, champagne flowing and smiles all around.
Backside of McLaren’s paddock hospitality the mood is the polar opposite.
Jenson Button’s small and tight little entourage of father John, girlfriend Jessica and a close mate or two are hiding away from the happy hullabaloo out front.
The 2009 Formula 1 World Champion’s 2012 season is not going to plan and this year’s Canadian grand prix is just about – one hopes – as bad as it can get. Trailing in a lap adrift of his race-winning team-mate, Jenson finished a miserable 16th and is all at sea, unable to explain why to his engineers, his mechanics, or the media.
Blame Pirelli? As Jenson has stated, that’s not an option. “I cannot be the only person who can’t drive the tyres. It’s impossible.”
Perhaps it’s the car? Jenson’s early-season pace, including an Australian Grand Prix victory, would suggest not.
Whatever it is, he needs to get on top of it soon or it will become a mind thing. Eating away at his self belief, eroding his confidence and destroying his season.
To stand trackside and witness Button at speed – in a car he’s loving – is surely one of modern-day Formula 1’s delights.
Many times I’ve stood in awe at Suzuka’s wonderful series of ‘S’ bends and watched (and listened) to Jenson’s Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda, Brawn and McLaren sweep sublimely this way and that – the driver deftly balancing his car with silky-smooth applications of steering and throttle, all the while left-foot braking so as to maximise downforce, traction and speed.
For the fan of purist driving – rather than smoke–inducing sideways hooliganism – it represents the zenith of enjoyment. Beguiling in its beauty and up there with the F1 greats of the art: Clark, Stewart, Prost et al.
Watch Jenson right now in his McLaren MP4-27 and – save for the design of the car – there’s nothing beautiful about it. Struggling with grip, balance and braking, and therefore outright pace, Jenson seems completely lost. The car couldn’t look more unsettled, and yet one knows JB is trying his hardest to make it work.
His misery is compounded by the blistering pace and fantastic consistency his championship-leading team-mate is exhibiting this year.
Button, with just two points in his last four F1 races and sitting eighth in the title standings, seems to be looking at his poorest season for years, but having been through trying campaigns in woefully inferior cars (and teams) to his current ride he can draw on the strength only wretched years in wretched machines can give a top-class driver.
But surely, for someone of his manifest talent, it shouldn’t have to be this way?