28th September 2011
Winter 2009 and there’s a new world champion in demand.
Fresh from Ron Dennis’s handing over of the race team reins and the exit-stage-left of the über-boring gang from Mercedes, McLaren’s marketing gurus can see an opportunity.
There’s just a chance that their 2010 Formula 1 campaign may be spearheaded by the two most recent world champions – and they’re both British, to boot!
Even before Jenson Button's first visit to McLaren's awesomely space age Technology Centre his switched-on manager, Richard Goddard, warns his charge to make a final decision about his possible move to the Woking-based outfit for the 2010 season. Goddard has been there before, you see, and knows that once the 2009 world champion's chauffeur swipes through the entrance gates, turns left and glides effortlessly around the lakeside edge of this multiple award-winning architectural tour de force, Button will crack and sign up there and then, whatever the offer.
Deal done – in advance – Jenson arrives at Lord Foster’s glittering masterpiece knowing that for the first time he will be working with a true blue riband F1 team.
Fast forward just over 21 months. Was Jenson as mad as many thought at the time to jump head first into the ‘land of Lewis’? To the doubters it seemed foolhardy at best and ill-advised for sure. Very few F1 ‘experts’ and paddock pundits thought it possible he could supplant McLaren favourite Lewis Hamilton.
Thus Button’s win at Melbourne, quickly followed by another at Shanghai a few weeks later, were conveniently attributed – by the same pundits – to Button’s well-known tactical nous and sympathetic driving style.
How things have changed in 2011. Having backed up a stunning race win at Montreal with consistent podium visits, Jenson is now the only guy seemingly capable of taking it to the all-conquering Red Bull-riding Sebastian Vettel.
The naysayers have gone quiet, yet still there remains a question…
Why is it that Button is not regarded as one of the true superstars of the sport?
He has it all: the talent, the looks, the personality, the joie de vivre, a world title, a pretty girlfriend, marketability by the bucketful – the list goes on. Hell, you could argue he’s just about the perfect sportsman.
And yet that’s just not enough.
The three set-in-stone megastars of F1 – Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – each seem to have something just that little bit more.
Sebastian the boyish charm, Fernando the ruthless mien and Lewis – well, Lewis is Lewis.
Such are the mysteries of whatever it is that governs superstardom, that rightly or wrongly Jenson is still not regarded as on the same level as these three. The mere fact that his name is mentioned as a possible replacement for the woefully underperforming Ferrari #2 Felipe Massa is evidence enough that Button has some way to go before convincing the sceptics of his true talent. Fernando Alonso will not allow anyone quick (enough) to sit next to him in a Scuderia pit box!
So as Button assumes the role of de facto McLaren team leader one wonders just what more he has to do.
Whatever it is, there’s surely room for four megastars at F1’s top table.
Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2011 Singapore Grand Prix by clicking here.
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