JULY 20, 2001
The Button phenomenon
Button has had a pretty bad year. The Benetton-Renault combination is pretty dire. This is really not the issue. The fact is that Jenson has not beaten Giancarlo Fisichella and the critics will tell you that this is why Jenson should be written off. They forget that at the end of last year Button was outpacing Ralf Schumacher, a man who is now being talked about as the potential World Champion of 2002.
To start with Fisichella is quick. Ask any F1 driver and they will all mention his name when they talk of the men who are naturally fast. He has considerably more experience in F1 (and with Benetton) than did Button and so it is really not surprising that Button has been overshadowed. It remains to be seen what will happen for the rest of the season. Button did himself no good at all by playing up his playboy image in the first half of the year. He is a youngster with millions to spend having some fun. But he is sharp enough to realize that now he has to deliver and the recent races have seen a much more concentrated Jenson.
After such a great debut year there was always the potential for a bad second season. If he had stayed at Williams things might have been different - but he was not given the option. He had to move on. Williams is a very straightforward team but one gets the impression that Benetton is much more political. The performance of individual drivers can fluctuate alarmingly depending on who is in favor.
Button is learning all the time. There is nothing like a bit of pain to teach a young driver how to improve and Button is going through one of these sticky patches. The major reason that Frank Williams moved Jenson on was that he felt that the Englishman needed to be a little more tempered by experience. That process is now happening.
So Button is not finished. His extraordinary natural talent will bring him back into the limelight. By then he will probably have learned how to apply himself a little bit more.
British fans looking at a fading generation of David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine and so on need not worry therefore. Button will be back.