With over 300 Grand Prix starts behind him, Jenson Button is one of the three most experienced Formula 1 drivers of all time, and yet when he stepped away from active F1 competition at the end of the 2016 season, the 2009 world champion and multiple race winner retained the same speed and enthusiasm that had marked him out as one to watch in 2000 when he burst onto the scene as a precociously talented 20-year-old.
Like many of his contemporaries, success came early for the Frome-born racer. As an eight year-old he had triumphed in his first karting race, despite starting from the back of the grid in wet conditions. Crowned the British Cadet kart champion aged 10, he took the same series with even greater ease the following year after winning all 34 races.
Quickly outgrowing his home competition, a string of international karting titles followed. Button became the youngest winner of the European Super A championship and the youngest runner-up in the Formula A world championship. He completed his karting career with victory in the 1997 Ayrton Senna Memorial Cup at Suzuka, before making the inevitable move to single-seaters.
In 1998 he won the highly competitive British Formula Ford championship at his first attempt with nine wins for Haywood Racing. He also took victory in the Formula Ford Festival, finished second in the European championship and landed the prestigious McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award. So rapid was his career progress that Button already seemed like a big fish in a small pond and he promptly moved up to British Formula Three for 1999.
Claiming three victories, seven podiums and third overall in his debut season, Button fully deserved his ‘Rookie of the Year’ honour and it wasn’t long before his successes were rewarded with a Formula One test. First for McLaren and then for Prost, Button wowed with his pace and ability, before Williams offered him a race drive for 2000...