Friday 24 February 2017

Ex-playboy Button still man most in demand

Tom Cary

Drinking and gambling in Las Vegas? Perhaps there is a bit of the old playboy left in Jenson Button after all. The Englishman's revelation this week that he celebrated his recent Montreal victory on a stag-do in Sin City was greeted with indulgent smiles and winks. All these triathlons are fine but it's nice to see our Jenson can still party like it's 1999.

Time was when Button would have been crucified for such an admission. Those days are long gone. At 31, the man once dismissed as "boy-band" material by team-mate Jacques Villeneuve may still retain a bit of rakish charm but he is no hellraising James Hunt.

Little Missy, the boat Button infamously parked adjacent to the Monaco paddock before he had even won a race, has long since been sold; the bachelor pad in Monaco exchanged for a house on Guernsey where he can go for coastal runs and bike rides.

After the playboy years, the near-abyss when Honda pulled out of the sport, the redemption with Brawn GP culminating in that epic world championship-winning drive in Brazil two seasons ago, Button has matured in to the ultimate pro with McLaren. Grounded, articulate, and with a tidy CV. No one has a bad word to say about him.

Last week, Button was linked again with a move to Ferrari. The only wonder is that we have not already seen the 'Jenson to Red Bull' story. Button's manager, Richard Goddard, spoke with McLaren two years ago and they would probably be a more natural fit given Button's strong aversion to team orders.

McLaren will surely move heaven and earth to hang on to him. They have an option on his services for 2011 in any case but, more importantly, they understand his worth to the team.

Since joining at the end of 2009, he has become an increasingly popular figure at Woking. Where Lewis Hamilton remains combustible, on the edge, Button is calmness personified.

When things do not go his way, Button does not lose his rag. When they do, he is irresistible. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh was in no doubt about the qualities of his drive in the Montreal monsoon.

"It (his charge from last to first) almost defied credence," Whitmarsh said. "I'd say this win was 90pc Jenson, 10pc the team. It was an extraordinary performance."

Can he build on it? Button spoke defiantly this week of catching Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, highlighting the fact that the German "cracked" under pressure in Montreal. "I think that will have hurt him," he noted. "Hopefully it will play on his mind."

The worry is that he seems to need those changeable conditions to stand out. Of Button's 10 Formula One wins, half have been in rain-affected races and the other five were all with what he himself labelled a 'monster' of a car in 2009.

It is no coincidence that all three of his wins for McLaren have come in changeable conditions. When it is dry Hamilton's raw pace has tended to give him the upper hand. Why?

"I don't drive any differently in the dry," Button said. "It's just I find there are more opportunities in the wet.I don't know why but I find my feet very easily in those conditions."

Actually, he did hazard a guess. Calling over his father John, Button joked that it stemmed from the fact that his old man was "too stingy" to buy him wet tyres as a karting cadet when he was eight. "I would drive in the wet on slick tyres trying to find the grip," he said.

There followed an impromptu exchange of banter as Button Snr hit back that in that case he was clearly responsible for all of Button's success to date. "Ha!" Button laughed. "You know what? Ron (Dennis, McLaren chairman) asked me, on stage in front of about 100 people, what is the most iconic moment from your career? And I recalled the moment when we were driving back from Larkhall (a kart track in Scotland). And you said to someone else in the car: 'I don't think Jenson's got it'. I remember reminding you of that after I won the world championship in Brazil and you crying your eyes out."

It was a glimpse into one of the many relationships which keeps Button grounded in this crazy sport.

It would be harsh to call Button the ideal 'No 2' driver -- quick enough to keep his team-mate honest; chips in with the occasional win; never rocks the boat -- because he earned his championship. But it is no surprise to see him still in such high demand. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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