Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Luminaries gather to honour Button

At the Hungaroring

Once the intense competition of qualifying was over in Hungary, the Formula 1 fraternity put aside their rivalries for an unusual social occasion.

Luminaries from the top to the bottom of the paddock had crammed into McLaren's buzzing motorhome on Saturday evening to celebrate Jenson Button's 200th Grand Prix.

It was a fascinating scene for the F1 voyeur. Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali stood chatting to Mercedes motorsport chief Norbert Haug with a friendly arm around his shoulder. Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli perched on a stool under the towering presence of Silver Arrows team boss Ross Brawn as Sauber's Sergio Perez mingled with the Virgin Racing drivers.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso nearly stole the show when the former McLaren arch-rivals warmly embraced each other, suggesting the particularly bitter cold war between the 2007 team-mates was well and truly thawing.

But the evening had been arranged by McLaren to mark Button's career and each of the 31-year-old's previous team bosses - with the exception of exiled Renault boss Flavio Briatore and BAR-Honda chief Dave Richards - spoke enthusiastically about the Somerset-born racer.

Button's F1 career began in 2000 when he beat Brazilian Bruno Junqueira in a shoot-out for a Williams race seat.

Sir Frank Williams had a unique take on the then 20-year-old, recalling: "In those days he was devastatingly good-looking and was always being pursued.

Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Pedro de la Rosa, Jenson Button, Timo Glock, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Paul di Resta (hidden), Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa at Jenson Button's 200th grand prix celebration

F1 drivers celebrate Jenson Button's 200th grand prix with the McLaren driver. Photo: McLaren

"He is a top, top guy. I really think that. He knew exactly how to get to the top and was completely unstoppable."

After two seasons with the Benetton team, which was re-branded Renault, Button lost his drive to Alonso and joined BAR, which then morphed into Honda.

The Japanese team helped the Englishman win his first race at the 113th attempt in 2006 in the only wet race - so far - to be held at the Hungaroring.

Shortly afterwards Brawn joined Honda, and under the former Ferrari technical guru Button went on to claim the world title in 2009 with the renamed Brawn Grand Prix team.

Brawn toasted his former charge, saying: "Jenson has got some essential qualities; speed, honesty, integrity and professionalism. Eventually he put all those things together in 2009.

"The greatest compliment I can pay him is I'm really sad he's not driving for us still."

Luckily, Michael Schumacher - who just happened to win a record seven world titles with Brawn - and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg weren't around to weigh the implications of that remark.

It was left to Martin Whitmarsh, Button's chief at McLaren for the last two seasons, to fill in the gaps in the Englishman's career.

"Grand prix wins 10, pole positions seven, podiums 35, fastest laps four, number of points 650..." Whitmarsh began before Button tried to boost his statistics saying: "Why can't you make some of this up?"

Whitmarsh continued: "What [the list] doesn't say is; a great world champion and a fantastic ambassador to F1 - and the son of a smurf." The latter - and lesser-known fact - was a humorous reference to Dad John Button's nickname 'Papa Smurf'.

Finally, Button took centre stage, surveyed the room of F1 faces, friends, media and McLaren staff before choosing his words carefully.

"Wow! 200," he had begun. "Somebody actually asked me the other day what does 200 mean to you and first of all I thought they were talking about the number of PR days I've done this year.

"For a racing driver, the number normally doesn't mean so much but it makes you think back to the good times you've had - and the bad times.

"Winning the world championship was a big thing for me but winning grands prix and fighting it out with the best, I'm very lucky to be in that position.

"It's not over yet. I'm hoping for many, many more. Martin..?"


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