Luckless Button continues to be right man in the wrong car

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2006, 12:00am

Jenson Button comes from down the road from me. I hail from the city of Bristol in the West Country of England, and Jenson was brought up in the ancient Somerset town of Frome. While Bristol does a passable impression of a modern metropolis, Frome is an altogether more genteel country community. It's hard to believe that one of Formula One's most talented current drivers comes from such sleepy origins.

Friends who know him portray him as a cheerful man who's one of the more helpful drivers in the paddock.

It's fair to say that cheerfulness is being stretched to the limit this season. It's hard to believe that after more than 100 grands prix, Button still hasn't won one.

It's been a career that so far has flattered to deceive. He arrived at Williams at the tender age of 20, but lasted there for just a season before being loaned out to Renault. Had he done enough there, he could now be reaping the benefits of the Anglo-French team's current dominance. But the whisper around the paddock was that the youngster was enjoying the partying element of the Formula One circus a little too much. More dedication was required, and he was moved along to Honda.

There it began to gel, with Button maturing as a driver, and Honda starting to get the performance out of their car. Podiums and pole positions followed, and all of a sudden he was back on the Formula One radar. He had so much faith in the team that he put his hand in his pocket to hand over millions to Williams to release him from a contract binding him to the team this year. It was a sizeable sum, enough for Williams to buy this year's engine supply from Cosworth, and a tangible demonstration of Button's determination to do whatever it took to become world champion.

This was supposed to be the year when it all came together, when Honda and the British driver finally made it to the top of the podium. It hasn't worked out that way. Once again Button has found himself a driver in the wrong place with the wrong car at the wrong time. The frustrating truth is, that after blitzing the field during winter testing, Honda have gone backwards.

After a series of problems and mishaps, Button has virtually written off the season already. There has been a pole position this season, but problems in keeping the tyres up to race temperature ruined that race.

In qualifying and race situations, the team have been found wanting. Simple mistakes have hamstrung the outfit. Perhaps the most memorable occasion was at the San Marino Grand Prix, where Jenson was released early from a pit-stop and set off with half the refuelling rig attached. Engines have blown within sight of the chequered flag and the fiasco at qualifying for the British Grand Prix wouldn't have helped morale. Being hauled off to the weighbridge before a decent time was set meant another race was ruined before it had even begun. To add insult to injury, teammate Rubens Barrichello is starting to find his feet.

Not winning races clearly affects motivation, and the current mood in the paddock is that Button can win races, but not in the Honda as things stand. Button is aware of this, as he made clear in a recent magazine interview. He claimed that no one would have won a race in the cars he's driven through his career. 'I'm 100 per cent sure of that. The Michael Schumachers of this world, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikonnen - personally I think I can do a better job than all of them,' he said. 'Some of that's because of the confidence I have inside, but my ability - being selfish and maybe being big-headed - means that if I'm in the best car on the grid, or even a car equal to those of the best drivers on the grid, I'll win'.

That's not happening at the moment. As a friend quipped to me recently: 'Frankie Dettori on a donkey isn't going to win the Derby!'