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Jenson Button - a year on from victory 31 Jul 2007

Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) Honda on the podium. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107 retired from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007

This time last year Jenson Button was hitting the headlines after finally scoring a maiden win at the Hungarian Grand Prix. This season, a swift fall from grace has meant he barely rates a mention by the same press that were lauding him just 12 months earlier.

As he arrives back in Budapest - the scene of his triumph - with just one championship point to his name, can the 27 year-old still turn things around and become a winner once more?

Back in 2006, it was all so different. After a shaky start to the season, Honda had come good. Button was a regular points contender and the car was good enough to allow him take his first-ever Grand Prix victory on merit, albeit in unpredictable wet-dry conditions. It might have been his113th attempt, but few had doubted he had it in him to win. After Hungary, it finally seemed the only way was up for the British driver who had fought so hard to buy himself out of his Williams deal and into what he thought would be a competitive future.

The Honda team’s ascendancy, however, proved short-lived and the 2007 season has been an altogether bleaker affair, with Honda - and Button - hamstrung by an ineffective car. After struggling during pre-season testing, the team have still been unable to fully dial in the RA107, which at most races has been less than swift in comparison with the rest of the field. For Button, the sudden drop in performance has been frustrating.

“The car is pretty difficult to drive and we can’t do a corner the same twice, pretty much, in a race,” he complained, ahead of April’s Bahrain Grand Prix. “It is very difficult to be consistent. So we’re a little bit stuck really. It is frustrating for everyone in the team, not just myself, but this is what we have at the moment.”

Since then, despite several upgrades to the car, neither Button nor team mate Rubens Barrichello have qualified better than ninth or finished a race higher than eighth. Indeed, only Toro Rosso and Spyker have fared worse and, on occasion, the RA107 has even found itself outshone by its own predecessor - albeit in the guise of Super Aguri’s SA07.

Honda have accelerated changes within the team in a bid to recover something from their 2007 campaign. They have been busy boosting their technical line-up, with BMW Sauber chief designer Jorg Zander and Williams chief aerodynamicist Loic Bigois just two of the big names poached by the squad in an attempt to spare further blushes. Long-time sporting director Gil de Ferran, meanwhile, has left for pastures new.

But will any of these changes bear fruit for Button or the team this season? Honda certainly think so. Indeed, ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian race, technical director Shuhei Nakamoto has even predicted the team may finish in the points. Button, however, remains cautious.

“It was never really one of my favourite races before, but for obvious reasons that all changed last year,” he said. “It will always be a special place as the scene of my first win. Obviously it will be quite a different race for us this year but hopefully we can keep up the steady progress we have been making and take another step forward.”

With so little to show for his five years at BAR/Honda, the idea that Button might be better off elsewhere is an increasingly salient one. At 27, he is by no means old, but with younger drivers continually moving up the ranks, the time available to prove his worth is decreasing by the race. His contract won’t allow it, but many believe a move to different team is Button’s only option if he - and not Lewis Hamilton - is to become Britain’s next world champion.

As just one of ten race winners on the current grid, he would remain highly sought-after were he to become available on the drivers’ market. In reality that is highly unlikely to happen and, despite the season’s disappointments, Button remains resolute in his determination to stick it out with the Japanese team.

“I don’t think anyone would be satisfied with the position that we are in,” he recently philosophised. “But life is never all rosy and there are always tough periods, this just happens to be a very tough time for us. I am confident that we will pull ourselves out of it.”

In for the long haul, Button - and his fans - must now keep the faith and hope that Honda’s promise eventually bears fruit. It's not yet too late.