Jenson Button is a British racing driver and 2009 Formula 1 World Champion who took a sabbatical from racing in 2017 and then announced a return to a cockpit of a race car in 2018 as Honda driver in the Japanese Super GT Series. He won the Super GT title in his rookie season, sharing a Honda NSX with Naoki Yamamoto.
Button spent seventeen full seasons in Formula One between 2000 and 2016, driving for Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR Honda, Brawn GP, McLaren Mercedes and McLaren Honda. He scored 15 wins and 50 podiums, taking a championship title with Brawn GP.
Before Formula 1, Button had a short experience in ladder series, winning the British Formula Ford Championship in 1998 and finishing third in the 1999 British Formula 3 Championship.
A son of a rallycross driver became karting champion
Jenson Alexander Lyons Button was born on January 19, 1980, in Frome, Somerset, and as a son of the former rallycross racer, he got an early involvement in the world of motorsport.
At the age of eight, Jenson began to drive karting and from the start, it was obvious that the kid had talent. Over the years, Button has won many national championships, while in 1997, his last year in karting, Jenson became the youngest ever winner of European Championship and he also won the Ayrton Senna Memorial Cup.
British Formula Ford champion in 1998
After graduating in karting, Button switched to single-seaters. In 1998, he became British Formula Ford Champion and also triumphed at Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. He also raced Formula Fords in Europe and finished second in the European championship. For his achievements, Jenson won the 1998 McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
In the following year, Button finished 3rd in the British Formula 3 Championship with three wins on his account and was the best-placed rookie. At the end of the year, he tested McLaren Formula 1 car as a part of his award from the previous year, but also had a test with the Prost Grand Prix team.
Formula 1 debut with BMW Williams
Button got a somewhat unexpected chance to make a debut in Formula 1 in 2000. BMW Williams needed a new driver after the departure of Alex Zanardi and the team arranged a shoot-out test at Silverstone between Button and Bruno Junqueira. Jenson did much better and earned a place in Williams. At the same time, after an impressive performance during the test, many experts were saying that Button will definitely be a new star in Formula racing.
Despite lacking experience, Button did a good job in his rookie season becoming, at the time, the youngest ever driver to earn points in F1. He scored points in six races, qualified 3rd for the Belgian Grand Prix, and finished the season at the 8th place with 12 points. Almost everyone was impressed with Button, but Williams opted not to retain his services and signed Juan Pablo Montoya.
Two seasons with Benetton Renault
However, Button didn’t have to fear for his future. In 2001, he signed with the Benetton team where his teammate was Giancarlo Fisichella. The experienced Italian did much better than the British driver that year. Jenson struggled with an uncompetitive car and was able to score only once, finishing 5th in the German Grand Prix, before taking the 17th position in the Drivers’ Championship.
After a poor season, Button was widely criticized, especially by the team principal Flavio Briatore. Jenson, who, in the meantime earned, a reputation of an extravagant playboy, stayed with the team for another year, driving alongside Jarno Trulli.
In 2002, the Benetton team was rebranded to Renault, and Jenson did much better. He scored points in seven Grands Prix, with the 4th places in Malaysia and Brazil as the best results, to finish 7th in the final standings. Despite the improvement, Briatore decided not to extend the contract with the British driver who left the team at the end of the year and was replaced with another rising star and future champion Fernando Alonso.
Three years with BAR Honda
In 2003, Button signed with the British-American Racing team which had a backing from Honda. The team was fairly ambitious but the atmosphere within the team was pretty bad. The other driver Jacques Villeneuve was unhappy with Jenson’s arrival and the relation between them never was good. The British driver was more motivated to prove himself and performed better than Villeneuve during most of the season. Just like in the previous campaign, Button’s best result was 4th place, scored in Austria and Japan, while at the end of the year he was 9th in the standings.
The situation drastically changed in 2004. Villeneuve left the team and was replaced with Takuma Sato. For the first time in his career, Button was the team’s more experienced driver. He never lacked confidence and before the start of the campaign said that he is able to be among the frontrunners. That year was his best thus far as he finished 3rd in the standings, behind the Ferrari’s pair Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.
For the first time in his career, Button earned a podium place by finishing 3rd in Malaysia. At Imola, he was 2nd after starting from pole position for the first time. In total, he had 10 podium finishes out of 18 races and failed to score only thrice. Despite having a very nice season, Button decided to sign a contract with the struggling Williams team which caused a dispute with BAR which stated that the move was irregular. The Formula 1’s Contract Recognition Board in October ruled in favor of BAR, so Button stayed with the team.
In 2005. BAR hadn’t a competitive car. Poor results in the first half of the year, combined with some technical mistakes and difficulties caused Button to drop to the 9th place. After it was found that his car was underweight in the San Marino Grand Prix, the British driver was excluded from the next two races. After nine races, Button still was without a point, but starting from the French Grand Prix his results improved drastically. He scored in each race and also twice finished on the podium, taking the 3rd place in Germany and in Belgium.
Maiden F1 victory with Lucky Strike Honda
Honda became the owner of the BAR team in 2006, and with better funding, it was expected that the team will achieve something more. That year was marked by ups and downs, but Jenson managed to score his maiden victory in the Formula 1 World Championship. He won the Hungarian Grand Prix in great style and also had other two podiums before finishing 6th in the standings.
When it was expected that the new team will continue to grow, things completely reversed. Button described the season of 2007 as a total disaster after he scored in only three races and finishing 15th overall with only 6 points. If that season was a total disaster, the following one was even worse. Honda’s car was completely uncompetitive and both Button and Barrichello were unable to do anything notable. The English driver scored only once, finishing 6th in Spain.
At the end of the season, Honda announced withdrawal from Formula 1 because of the global economic crisis and Jenson's further career was in limbo, especially after constant criticism from the press and former Formula 1 drivers led by Nigel Mansell.
Jenson Button was the 2009 Formula 1 champion
The glimmer of hope arrived in March of 2009 when the former Honda team principal Ross Brawn bought the team. Button accepted to stay with the newly-formed team even after a pay cut of 50 percent. His decision to stay proved to be the best in his career as he won his only F1 title.
A controversial diffuser design played a decisive role in Button’s success. The other teams implemented their own reconfigured diffusers in the second half of the season, but the English driver had already had an advantage which was big enough to keep him on the top until the end of the season.
Jenson won six of seven opening races in 2009 but later was able to score only two podiums. However, he was crowned as the champion having an advantage of 11 points to the runner-up Sebastian Vettel. Brawn GP also won the Constructors’ championship thanks to Barrichello’s good performances. The Brazilian finished 3rd overall that year before the team was sold to Mercedes.
Move to McLaren Mercedes in 2010
As the world champion, Button signed a three-year contract with Vdafone McLaren Mercedes. The British team had a pair of British drivers in 2010 after Lewis Hamilton was Button’s new teammate. The first year with McLaren could be described as solid. Jenson won the races in Australia and China, had five other podiums, and eventually took the 5th place, just behind Hamilton.
The following year was a step forward after Button was a runner-up but never really challenged Vettel who was dominant over the whole campaign and had 122 points more than his closest rival at the end of the year. In such circumstances, wins in Canada, Hungary, and Japan, with numerous podiums and only two retirements that season could be described as successful.
The last season in which McLaren played an important role in Formula 1 was 2012. Button and Hamilton did considerably well, but Red Bull and Ferrari were better. Jenson won the season-opening race in Australia, later triumphed in Belgium, while in the season-closing race in Brazil he scored his last win in the series. At the end of the year, he was 5th overall, again behind his teammate.
Beginning of struggling
In 2013, Button became the team’s first driver. Hamilton left McLaren, while the Mexican Sergio Perez was brought as a replacement. Despite scoring points on a regular basis, Button was unable to battle against the frontrunners, so he finished 9th overall.
In the following campaign, Jenson stepped at the podium for the last time, finishing 3rd in the Australian Grand Prix. Later in the season, he had many strong finishes but it was enough only for the 8th place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Switching to Honda engines in 2015
For the 2015 Formula 1 season, McLaren switched to Honda engines. Another former champion arrived to the teamthat year - Fernando Alonso. Button and Alonso became the most experienced driver line-up in Formula 1 but that season was frustrating for the team. The McLaren Honda car was completely uncompetitive and unreliable, so both drivers barely could score points. Button dropped to the 16th place which was surely humiliating.
The following year, Button’s last in Formula 1, was similar to the previous. Despite some small progress made on the car, the results again were poor, so the British driver had to retire ingloriously. He even retired from his final race in Abu Dhabi.
Winning the Super GT title as a rookie
In 2017, Button stayed with the team as an ambassador but also as a reserve driver, replacing Alonso at Monaco Grand Prix while Spaniard was competing at Indianapolis 500. Button retired in his last F1 race. In August 2017, he made a debut in the Japanese Super GT Series, driving for Team Mugen at Suzuka 1000 Kilometers as a third driver in the #16 Honda NSX-GT.
For the 2018 season, Button announced a full-time return to a race car, signing a deal with Honda and Team Kunimitsu to drive in the Super GT Series. Sharing the #100 Honda NSX with Naoki Yamamoto, Button was a race winner once and added three more podiums, winning the championship title as a rookie.
In 2018, Button also joined SMP Racing in selected races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, including a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a BR1 LMP1 prototype, he retired at Le Mans.
Button was married to model Jessica Michibata but they divorced in 2015 after only one year. His other interests are triathlon, mountain biking, and body boarding. Jenson also has a collection of vintage and sports cars.
He is also very active in charity work through Jenson Button Trust. In 2016, Button was awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering from the University of Bath.