Jenson Button was very much a late bloomer in Formula 1. He arrived at Williams in 2000 only 20 years old, but took quite a long time to mature as an F1 driver. It took 6 years for his first win, and the first time he really looked like a championship contender was when he won the title in 2009. And in that year, his dominance was (on the surface, at least) all about the Brawn car.
Button moved to McLaren following his successful 2009 season, a move that was generally considered ill-advised. McLaren was Lewis Hamilton’s team. Even without the perception that the team was built around Hamilton, Lewis was (and remains) an enormous talent. It was a bold move on Button’s part to line up alongside such a team-mate. Fernando Alonso had struggled alongside Hamilton in 2007, and Alonso is one of the greatest drivers of the last 2 decades, if not ever.
In 2010, Button finished 5th in the standings, just behind Hamilton. They each took 2 victories, and had a few on-track battles. Button had finished behind Hamilton, but had by no means been out-shone.
2011 saw a more mature, more determined, more in control Jenson Button. He has obviously settled in well at McLaren, and is now well-focused on winning races. He has shown speed during 2011 that few suspected he had in him. His victory in Canada was thrilling. He drove through the field from last place, in changing weather conditions, and pressured Sebastian Vettel into making a mistake. It was arguably Button’s finest win, and will probably remain so.
2 further wins – in Hungary and Japan – and another 9 podiums saw Button finish the season second to Vettel, ahead of Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. It is extremely significant that Button beat Webber in the championship. The Red Bull has been universally acknowledged as the quicker car (although the McLaren certainly was not slow this year), and Webber is regarded as a quality driver. For Button to finish ahead of Webber in the standings shows that his driving has been quick and consistent for the entire season.
Until 2009, Button was unlikely to be mentioned among names like Hamilton and Alonso when talking about potential champions. After his performance in 2011, Button must now be one of the favourites for 2012. Much depends on the car, as ever in Formula 1, but Button has certainly done his part with distinction in 2011, and it seems likely that he will carry that form into 2012.