Why Has Jenson Failed To Push Our Button?

TOM CLARKE wonders – why so much apathy for a British winner?

“Where is everyone? I’m fucking world champion!” Sums it all up really. Greatest driver in the world according to the points table, driving for Brawn, a supposedly smaller team, but still the majority of people, even some Formula 1 fans, don’t really care.

He won six of the first seven races, twice as many races as his nearest competitor and is fifteen points clear with one race left. This is exceptional and a stunning success; but Sunday’s race and confirmation of his world champion status have been met by a striking wave of apathy.

Perhaps this is the result of too many years of watching Tim Henman in a Wimbledon semi-final; as well as the Gareth Southgate’s and David Batty’s of this world stepping up to take penalties. Button’s a Brit and he didn’t bottle it properly; he disgraced our nation’s sporting tradition. Maybe that’s why the initial reaction to his success has been so muted, no one was watching presuming he’d mess it up with victory in his sight, Lewis Hamilton knows it’s easily done. You know it’s bad when you’re world champion yet more people are talking about a Liverpool balloon on Monday morning. “I am the world champion – I am not going to stop saying it!” It’s now time everyone else joined him.

Part of the problem must be that races this season has been perceived as boring; over half of the races so far (9 of 16) have been won by the driver starting on pole while in Japan the top 3 finished exactly as they started. Jenson is at the heart of this; in 4 out of the 6 races he won he started at the front. The race is as good as over the moment qualifying is over; you’re only really watching the race for a crash or pit-stop muck-up.

Yet, although the car plays a part, the supreme driving skills of those behind the wheel should be more highly respected – this isn’t boring but top sportsmen performing to the best of their abilities, no matter how predictable it may be. Indeed it’s probably for the best that Sunday’s race in Brazil was the title-clincher; he may not have won the race but it was an extraordinary display of skill, competitiveness and composure worthy of a world champion, a performance to help dispel the myths that he’d been relying on the car all along, that he was too nervous, that he couldn’t win when it really mattered. In the end the title race was boring and predictable, but this is testament to the season Button has had.

Jenson Button is rightly world champion, Great Britain’s tenth, and he shouldn’t be regarded as a footnote to the likes of Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and more recently Lewis Hamilton. He’s had a few up and down years, trailing behind Jean Alesi and Pedro de la Rosa in 2001 but also finishing 3rd in 2004. Even last year he was the lowest of the points scorers, finding himself behind Bourdais and Nakajima, yet everyone knew the talent was there.

Surely this wasn’t going to be another case of British talent wasted? His ‘playboy’ image did little to help him in this respect, his pretentious and promiscuous lifestyle drew criticism from aforementioned ex-champions Stewart and Mansell who claimed he had ‘underperformed’ (I think he’s referring to racing here….) Who cares what he does off the track, it’s how he performs on race weekend that really matters and this season, and Sunday in particular, should do more than enough to silence those critics.