For a man who has spent his career in the fast lane, Jensen Button’s long goodbye to the sport is proving to be eye-wateringly drawn out. If this season is to mark the Brit’s retirement after 15 years in the paddock the manner of his going is proving to be uncharacteristically pedestrian.
As a driver Button has always been quick. Even this season he proved himself significantly sharper than team-mate Kevin Magnussen. Margins of 71 championship points and three places in the standings speak volumes. Given the significance of the engineering across the grid, that is unquestionably the real measure of the job that Button has done this year. However good the young Dane might be, Button is better – at least for now. Fifteen years is a long time in Formula 1. It makes for a wealth of experience that all the talent in the world can only partially make up for.
There are suggestions – at the time of writing – that Button may yet not be quite as ready as he has hinted to hang up his helmet. Speculation is rife that all his not so subtle hints about life beyond F1 are not the full story. The lack of clarity over precisely what the 34-year-old might turn his attentions to is itself a hint that Button is still angling for a deal next year. There have been suggestions that the 2009 world champion is haggling for a two year deal, and that the current uncertainty is a reflection of two parties who have yet to finish their negotiations.
All bets are off on that pending a McLaren board meeting in December. There was certainly no suggestion of Button slowing down in terms of either his motivation or his speed on the track over the latter half of the season. Dragging his ill-equipped McLaren to 5th place in Abu Dhabi represents a perfect marker for anyone contemplating the Englishman’s merits. If the current uncertainty over Button’s future is a matter of him playing a political game with his employers then you can hardly fault him for the way he has played his hand so far. He has certainly made a solid case for himself.
There has never been a shortage of betting opportunities in F1. For example 32Red already has a range of bets on the prospects for Magnussen for the 2015 season. They have him at 19/1 to make the podium during the campaign, and whilst the Dane is quoted at 1000/1 to lift the title, it is perhaps equally telling that Button’s name does not appear on the list at all. Sign up now at 32Red to see what’s on offer currently – although anyone thinking of committing their hard earned cash on Button’s future will be taking a blind guess at best. At the moment the safer option is to sit tight and see what happens next.
The fact that Button’s close friend and confidant Lewis Hamilton is keen to publicly promote the case for his one-time team-mate as a man with a future as well as a glittering past is perhaps worth taking note of. The newly crowned champion told the Guardian newspaper recently, “Jenson’s been in Formula One for a long time, he’s had an exceptional career, and he’s still young. On Sunday he drove incredibly well to bring a McLaren up to fifth, and with a great driver [Magnussen] alongside him who wasn’t able to do the same with the same car.” Hamilton was headlined as telling Ron Dennis to make the “smart move” and retain Button as a team-mate to the returning Fernando Alonso next year.
Much is made of Button’s wealth and his reluctance to race in an uncompetitive machine. With a net worth estimated to be $105 million, Button hardly needs the money. But he has been in the super-rich bracket for over a decade now. Money is unlikely to play as much a part in his thinking as the less easily accounted for matters of his competitive urge, and, although is not something he’ll likely admit to whilst he’s off the pace, his love of racing.
Button was born into a racing family, and racing has been his life so far. It would be an incredible wrench to put an end to that when there is still gas in the tank. As they say, you are a long time retired. For all the alternative options that he has – and there are plenty – it would be a surprise in any of them can provide the same buzz that Button has enjoyed as one of the world’s best in his chosen field. Surrendering that level of excellence for mediocrity in another field doesn’t sound like Button somehow.
If that is the choice that Button makes he will leave the sport with a record that is worth dwelling on. Fifteen years, 266 races, fifteen Grands Prix wins, fifty podium places, eight poles, eight fastest laps, 1,198 championship points and a World Championship title – it’s a record to be proud of. But is it enough? It’s a question to which only one man truly knows the answer.