Button and Brawn on New Year's Honours List

The British New Year’s Honours List has been published with the news that motorsport has claimed three honours. Among the 1000-odd people named was Ross Brawn, who has been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), “for services to motorsport” and Jenson Button, who has been named as a Member of the same order (MBE) for the same reason. This conitnues to modern trend of naming World Champions as MBEs rather than in previous years when they traditionally became OBEs.

The only other motorsport involvement in the Honours List was an MBE for David Butler, the head of the British Motorsport Association for the Disabled, for services to “disability sport”. Butler lost both legs and his left hand in a bomb accident at the age of 11. He has nonetheless competed in over 600 events, racing and rallying.

Traditionally Formula 1 World Champions have earned the rank of Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. This was the case with Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. Alain Prost was also the recipient of a rare OBE to a foreigner. John Surtees was the exception to the rule. He was appointed an MBE in 1959 after winning the World Motorcycling Championship but received nothing in 1964 when he was Formula 1 World Champion. It was not until 2008 that he was appointed an OBE for services to motorsport. In 2009 Lewis Hamilton was given an MBE when he won the title and Button's honour reflects that. What is not clear is why winning a World Championship is less important now than it was in the 1990s and earlier.

The distribution of British honours is rather a hit-and-miss business. There have been knighthoods for Jack Brabham, Frank Williams, Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss; CBEs for Lotus boss Colin Chapman, Cooper’s John Cooper, March’s Robin Herd, David Richards (Prodrive) and McLaren's Ron Dennis. There were OBEs for George Eyston, Cosworth founder Keith Duckworth and Professor Sid Watkins and rally driver turned team owner Malcolm Wilson, plus MBEs for the likes of John Watson, Eric Broadley, the founder of Lola, multiple Le Mans 24 Hours winner Derek Bell, plus similar awards for World Rally Champion Colin McRae and a similar award for Roger Clark. Richard Burns was also World Rally Champion but was never honoured. Andy Priaulx, for his part, was named an MBE after winning three consecutive World Touring Car Championships, while commentator Murray Walker received an OBE for his efforts as a broadcaster.

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