Jenson Button took his third win of the season on Sunday in fine style. This was a victory which demanded a great deal of care, because he didn’t have the fastest car out there on the day, not even on the qualifying day, even though the Brawn had appeared to have the legs of the others in Friday practice.
He also had to be aggressive on the opening lap, to regain the place lost to Lewis Hamilton at the start. F1 fans around the world are now debating whether Button can capitalise on the superb start he has made to the first part of the season and win the world title. He will face a growing challenge from teams like McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, while Toyota and Red Bull are already on his pace.
But I sense a real difference about Jenson this year. I think that Ross Brawn has given him a greater sense of disclipline, not just in his driving, but in his life as a whole. And in that pass on Hamilton, he showed the importance of giving nothing away, something which characterised Michael Schumacher’s driving and Ross Brawn’s whole approach to racing.
Button has always had a great talent and a uniquely smooth style. And when he started, he learned the F1 ropes pretty quickly, let’s not forget that this is the man, who at the age of 20, on his first visit to Spa, pointed out to the FIA’s Charlie Whiting that the 100 metre braking board was in the wrong place on the approach to La Source hairpin. They measured it and found he was correct.
So, behind this rather laid-back facade, a sympathy for precision and discipline has always been there, but many years in bad cars had rather blunted the edge. Also the same lack of discipline and leadership in the technical department at Honda, which caused them to misfire, has been transformed under Brawn’s leadership.
I’ll give you a small example, every time Button enters the pits during practice he drives into his pit box, with the mechanics in the positions they would be in for a pit stop. He comes in and stops in position. But that is not where it ends, there is a brief pause on the radio and then Andrew Shovlin, Button’s race engineer will say, “Ten centimetres out.”
There is no further comment, no response from Jenson.
Sometimes he comes in and you will hear Brawn himself say, “Perfect position Jenson.”
It matters because it means that when he stops for real in the race, the refuellers will be able to do their job more easily and the stop will be faster. This is what you call taking care of the details and it is the hallmark of Ross Brawn, honed over many years together with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The ethos at Ferrari was that everyone had to give 100% all the time and if they each counted on each other to do that, they would be successful. It has undoubtedly sharpened up Button’s racecraft. He seems very on top of every aspect of the game at the moment.
“I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win, ” Ross said on Saturday. “The way he is driving, that part is taken care of.
“It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pit stops, the strategies, and make sure the car is reliable.”
His personal life has been rather chaotic for much of his F1 career, you recall the dithering over moves back to Williams and the odd situation where he had to buy himself out of his contract. Now after a few years under Richard Goddard’s management that side of his life seems to have settled down and become more under control. There is a unity of purpose about every aspect of his life. I’ve seen it before in racing drivers, when they get into a position to win races and championships, they get into the ‘zone’.
Button is in the zone now.