This driver had all the makings laid out before him for a serious title challenge. His team was behind him, he was comfortably the lead developer in the team, and he was in his Formula one prime. However, a mid-season slump left him at a loss for pace and not even 3 amazing wins could keep him in contention for the world championship.
6. Jenson Button
In pre-season testing, the Mclaren and Jenson looked like peas in a pod, as they quietly went about their business. The grew ever more confident as they saw that both their long run, and low fuel pace was consistent, along with their tire wear. Mclaren themselves said that if they went to Melbourne with a winning car, then they were sure the championship was theirs for the taking.
Indeed, Jenson proved this speed was not a fluke by qualifying on the fright row with his teammate, Hamilton. In the race, Jenson made a flying start to run first. He never looked back after this and went on to pull large chunks of time out of his teammate. He was in his groove. Safety cars threatened his commanding lead, but he kept his head down at all times and ministered every restart. Jenson’s win in Australia surely gave Mclaren a lot of hope for the rest of the season, proving that his late season improvement in 2011 wasn’t a one-off.
In Malaysia, the Mclaren was looking as strong as ever, with perhaps a little more competition from the Mercedes. Nevertheless, Jenson qualified on the front row again, but with the threat of rain looming for Sunday, a win was not guaranteed.
After the red flag session in the Malaysian rain, the Mclaren, and particularly, Jenson, struggled to get any heat in the intermediate tires, and progress was slight. A puncture while passing Karthikeyan was his fault but it ruined any chance of a good result. He ended the day in 14th.
In china, the cold weather I qualifying hampered his performance as he struggles to get sufficient heat into his front tires. He salvaged 5th on Saturday, but left the track disappointed. Hi made a lightning start the next day and was running 3rd for the first stint, behind the dominating Mercedes. He was lucky to take second after Schumacher’s retirement and soon set his sights on the other silver arrow. A win was not looking likely but was definitely on the cards. That is, until his final pit stop was ruined. An extra 6 seconds on the front left tire ruined his chances. He battled his way ahead again and finished 2nd. A good result for a hard day’s work.
In Bahrain, Jenson’s problems began. He did a good job to qualify 4th, but he couldn’t make much progress. He was looking at a probable 5th place finish until his exhaust died. He limped back the the pits and ended his run for the day.
The mid season test wasn’t seen as very useful for Mclaren, so it took its chance to give their test drivers a chance to have a go in the car.
In Spain, with a new nose on the MP4-27, Jenson was really starting to struggle with the tires. He couldn’t seem to get them into their operating window, and when he finally did, he couldn’t keep it there. He qualified 11th and battled throughout the race to take a lonely 9th place.
Such we’re Jenson’s struggles, that over the next 4 races, he manages only 2 points scoring finishes and 5 points total, with two 16th places along with a 10th and 8th.
In Germany, Mclaren brought a huge update designed to make the car more consistently in the operating window for the tires. The true potential of the package was masked in the wet qualifying, but in the race the car, along with Jenson, truly shined. He made a great start to run in 5th in the first stint, and after a tire change, he started charging, picking off the Force India of Hulkenberg and Mercedes of Schumacher. He was now on the move and hunting down Vettel and Alonso. He spent time within a second of the leader, and had a real shot at winning the race, but soon his tires started to go and he was passed by vettel. The nature of the pass, however, sparked controversy. On the run down to the hairpin, Button carefully placed his car on the inside forcing Vettel to pass on the outside. However, Vettel overstepped the boundaries of the track and completed the pass illegally. The FIA was aware of this and added 20 seconds to vettel’s final time, putting him down in 5th. This fine return to form was just what Mclaren needed after a long spell of disappointment.
In Hungary, the Mclaren was just as strong, with Jenson qualifying 4th and running 3rd for most of the race. However, a last minute switch to a 3-stop strategy, put Jenson in traffic and he finished 6th. This didn’t do the car’s speed justice, and certainly a podium was on the cards that day. Jenson admitted that he was surprised at the strategy switch, as he felt fine on his tires and didn’t want to change.
The summer break was a good opportunity to recharge and prepare for the assault on the championship, which was becoming ever more unlikely for Jenson.
In Belgium, rain made strategy a game of trial and error, but typical Jenson, he made the most of it and went on to take his very first Mclaren pole. In the race, the carnage that ensued behind him made an easy day for him, as he cruised to one of the most dominant victories of the season.
In Italy, another all Mclaren front row was a good sign for the race. Indeed it was, as the Mclarens were comfortably running 1-2 until Jenson had a problem with his fuel pump. A good result, lost.
Singapoe marked the return of Red Bull’s dominance, but second place was welcome after a long and grueling 2 hours in the heat of Singapore.
In Japan a good qualifying was hampered by a gearbox penalty, but he fought back in the race, just missing the podium behind homeboy, Kobayashi.
A potentially good result with a great strategy from. 11th on the grid was ruined when Kobayashi ran into him in Korea.
Over the next few races, Jenson had solid if unspectacular races. A 5th, 4th and 5th were his spoils from India, AbuDhabi and Austin. Austin was more impressive after be qualified 12th. He had the pace to challenger Hamilton and Vettel but his bad qualifying ruined any if those chances. He had some amazing battles with Raikkonen, however.
In Brazil, Mclaren were back on the front row. The race was anything but normal, however.
The rain made everyone second guess their decisions, but not Jenson. He braved many laps on slicks as the track became increasingly slippery. He and Nico Hulkenberg (the star of this race) built up a massive 40 second lead until it was wiped out by the safety car. With hulkenberg still leading and button right behind, Hamilton was able to close that gap to the leaders. On the restart, Hamilton got passed Button and soon got passed Hulkenberg. But Hulkenberg wasn’t going to have that and attempted a pass into the first corner. It all went wrong though and he slid onto the wet and into Hamilton, taking the leading Briton out of his final race with Mclaren. Button was there to pick up the pieces, however, and led until the end. Bookending the season is always a good sign for next season.
Jenson clearly had an up and down season. He had some absolutely fantastic races, but spotted his campaign with races we all wasn’t to forget. Had Jenson sorted out his tire issues earlier, maybe he could have challenged for the championship a little longer. Nevertheless, this didn’t happen and that is why he’s in 6th on this list.