After giving serious consideration to quitting F1 after a difficult 2015 for McLaren-Honda
, Jenson Button
heads into his 17th season as an F1
The 2009 world champion is now the most experienced driver on the grid having made his debut in 2000 with Williams and this will be his seventh season with McLaren
For the first time since 2012 Button
will have the same team-mate alongside him the form of Fernando Alonso
, which may help bring some stability to the team.Button
will be 36 when the 2016 season starts, a far cry from the relatively inexperienced 20-year-old when he made his debut with Williams
. But his talent was obvious from the start and he claimed his first World Championship point in Brazil before going on to finish eighth in the 2000 Drivers' Championship with 12 points.
Despite a strong debut season, Button
was dropped by Williams in favour of Juan Pablo Montoya. He switched to Benetton for the next two years but it was a disappointing spell, with some critics claiming he was too keen on the trappings of being an F1
driver and that his focus on the day job had diminished.
At the end of 2002 Button switched to BAR and it was a move that proved to be the making of the young Englishman. Paired with Jacques Villeneuve, he more than matched his World Champion team-mate but had to wait until 2004 before breaking his podium duck.
Contractual disputes marred 2005 before Button
signed a long-term deal with Honda Racing (the Japanese manufacturer having bought out the team) and the Briton claimed both his and their breakthrough victory in Hungary the following year.
The win proved an isolated success as 2007 led Button
to describe that year's Honda as "a complete dog". The appointment of Ross Brawn as Team Principal failed to spark great improvement the following year either, with the Briton finishing the season in 18th place in the drivers' standings.
That all changed spectacularly in 2009 when Brawn bought the team following Honda's withdrawal and produced a car - double diffuser and all - capable of challenging for the title. It proved a fairy-tale year.
A flying start to the season saw Button
win five out of six races and although Brawn's Red Bull rivals chased hard, the Briton produced an exceptional drive at the Brazilian GP, coming from 14th on the grid to finish fourth and becoming World Champion.
To the surprise of many, Button
promptly left his long-time Brackley home in favour of McLaren
and a mouth-watering all-British partnership with Hamilton
. Two early-season wins aside, he largely played second fiddle to Lewis for much of 2010 but in 2011 convinced the doubters that he was more than a force to be reckoned with.
Sebastian Vettel utterly dominated the campaign but it was Button
who invariably ran him closest as the season progressed, none more so than in what he described "best win of my career" in Canada, where Button somehow managed to overcome chaos in the rain and four visits to the pits to win.
On the eve of the Japanese GP, McLaren
confirmed that he had signed a new "multi-year contract" and he celebrated by returning to the top step of the podium at Suzuka. Although the title was already gone, Button
still had two challenges left for the rest of the season: to finish second in the drivers' standings and become the first team-mate to beat Hamilton
over a season. He succeeded on both counts.
The start of 2012 appeared set to offer even greater rewards after McLaren
came out with the fastest car and Button
in the Melbourne season-opener. But, strangely, his title challenge never really took off due to an alarming slump in form as he was sent into a tailspin by set-up and tyre issues.
To his credit, Button
rediscovered his form after the summer break with a dominant win at Spa and then ended the year with victory in Brazil.
In 2013, however, there was to be no recovery, with neither Button
nor the struggling Perez able to summon any sort of frontrunning pace from the uncompetitive MP4-28.
Having lost his father John, Jenson's
biggest fan and the guiding force behind his rise to the top of the motorsport tree, during the 2014 off-season, the veteran's best form was understandably reserved for the conclusion of the campaign, when his sustained run of superior results ultimately proved decisive in his battle with Magnussen to partner the incoming Alonso
With the car proving uncompetitive, beating his team-mate was all Button
could hope for in 2015 and he duly outscored McLaren's
Speculation rumbled on for a large part of the season that Button
would hang up his helmet at the end of the season, but it was eventually confirmed that he and McLaren
had agreed to take up the option on his contract for 2016.
With new GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings, this season could be Button's
last with McLaren
and indeed even in F1. But if he outperforms Alonso
once again, the Englishman may just stick around for an 18th year.