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Ten of the best: Button's finest Grand Prix drives

24 Sep 2015

With Jenson Button confirming he will retire from Formula One racing at the end of the current season, we revisited a feature we ran at the start of this season recapping his finest drives in the sport - including everything from fairytale wins to wet-weather masterclasses and the most epic of all comebacks...
Making a splash as a rookie, Germany 2000

He had already scored points in just his second Grand Prix in Brazil, but it was at Hockenheim that Button truly announced himself in his maiden F1 season. From last on the grid - the consequence of his engine not firing up - the Briton initially struggled to make headway up the order. A mid-race safety car helped him make progress, but it was a late shower that truly transformed his fortunes. On a track that swung from dry to wet and back again - and at different rates in different areas - Button showed the qualities that would become his hallmark, judging conditions to perfection to charge up the order and clinch fourth courtesy of a fantastic late pass on Sauber's Mika Salo.

The first pole, San Marino 2004

Fresh from two straight podiums, Button produced a breath-taking lap at Imola in 2004 to claim his first F1 pole position, a quarter of a second ahead of Ferrari's Michael Schumacher - and a full second clear of his BAR team mate Takuma Sato. The Briton kept that advantage at the start, leading Schumacher as the pair rapidly pulled away from the rest of the field. The Briton would lose the lead - and ultimately the victory - at the first round of pit stops, but finished a comfortable second, with Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya completing the podium. "It was another fantastic race for me," he said afterwards, having demonstrated superlative one-lap and race-distance pace. "Second is another step closer to our ultimate ambition - a first win for me and the team."

One-handed heroics, Germany 2004

Button arrived at Hockenheim on a sensational run of six podiums and 10 points finishes from the first 11 Grands Prix of 2004. And despite a 10-place grid drop forcing him to start from 13th, he left with that record - and his burgeoning reputation - very much enhanced after what he later labelled "without doubt the best race of my F1 career". Though his first lap yielded just one gain, he was soon scything his way through the field: he led twice as his rivals made earlier stops, and by mid-distance was hounding Renault's Fernando Alonso in a fight for second. The scrap was the showpiece of the race: Button pulling alongside the Spaniard several times as they hit 330km/h, only for Alonso to hang on. Finally Button outfoxed his rival, diving down the inside at Turn 8 to snatch a brilliant second. Even more remarkable was the fact he was driving with one hand in the build-up: a loosening strap meant his helmet was lifting up on the straights, drawing the strap tight against his throat and making it hard to breathe. His incredible charge meant the Briton, one-handed or not, finished just eight seconds off a possible first F1 victory.

Button stuns in the wet, Hungary 2006

Bizarre summer thunderstorms meant this was destined to be a race of theatre and upsets even before Button's charge. But through his brilliance in tricky conditions the Briton would dominate all the headlines: after 113 races without a win, his wait was ended in fitting style. He was the man to watch at the start as he made rapid progress from 14th on the grid - the result of an engine change penalty - to rise up to fourth after just seven laps. His progress continued, and by mid-distance he was second and fighting to close up on Renault's Fernando Alonso. The pair's battle would be decided 19 laps from the finish: Button took the lead as Alonso pitted for the final time, but the Spaniard's day was soon over as a loose rear wheelnut forced him to retire. Button claimed the chequered flag, sparking wild celebrations on the Honda pit wall and again on the podium. "If my voice sounds funny, it's because I've been screaming so much," Button laughed afterward. "I didn't want the race to end. What a day!"

The unlikeliest of triumphs, Australia 2009

This was fairytale stuff: after a winter of uncertainty and discontent, Button and Brawn romped to pole and victory in Australia, delivering an empathic early statement about their 2009 title credentials. Only a few months before, the Briton hadn't even been sure he would be on the grid; now he had his second Grand Prix win and a car that was the clear class of the field as the season kicked off. It was that turmoil that made the win so special - the race itself was less eventful, with Button starting on pole and leading every lap despite late pressure from Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica. "This win is for me, my family and my team," Button beamed afterward. "It's been a traumatic few months and I want to say a massive thank you to them all for being so strong and never losing belief. And what's so exciting is that there is so much more to come…"

First-lap charge sets up victory, Bahrain 2009

Button was in his element in 2009, delivering a number of outstanding performances including victories in Malaysia, Turkey and Spain. But it was in Bahrain that he arguably had to be at his most tenacious. With Brawn struggling for headline pace, Button needed to make up ground on the first lap - and he duly delivered. Sebastian Vettel was dispatched around the outside of Turn 1, before Lewis Hamilton was picked off at the same corner one lap later. The moves were critical, allowing Button to move onto the tail of the Toyotas that had locked out the front row. On less fuel, they pitted before the Briton, who delivered a few superb laps to undercut both Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock and move into a lead he would extend almost relentlessly over a sensational middle stint. Victory was his, set up by his opening lap brilliance. "It wasn't easy from there but getting up to third on the first lap was crucial for me," he admitted afterward. "It has been a tough weekend as we didn't have the pace that we expected - which makes this win even more rewarding."

A lifelong dream fulfilled, Brazil 2009

Interlagos was a rollercoaster like no other Button had experienced. His once imperious championship lead had been gradually pegged back, and the pressure only intensified heading into the penultimate round. The Briton could guarantee himself the title by finishing fifth but, as his team mate Rubens Barrichello secured pole, he was left rueing his tyre choice as he could manage no better than 14th on a drying track. Talk moved toward a final-round showdown, with Button himself admitting he would need a "hell of a race" to wrap up the title. He delivered just that. He made up ground immediately, moving into ninth at the end of a chaotic first lap, while further aggression paved the way to a precious fifth. His first drivers' crown - and Brawn's fairytale constructors' triumph - were secured. "Today was the best race that I've driven in my career and I'm really going to enjoy this moment," he reflected. "It's going to take a while to sink in but for now I'm just revelling in the achievement of a lifelong dream."

Stealing the thunder down under, Australia 2010

Despite his 2009 championship success, few predicted that Button would thrive alongside new McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton in 2010. Fewer still predicted he would triumph within two races. But in Australia, the Briton did just that. Once again his ability to read a race, call conditions and eke out tyre life were his major weapons. Having dropped two places to sixth on the first lap, Button surged back into contention by being the first to gamble on switching to slicks on a drying track. When Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel hit technical trouble Button duly hit the front, managing to stretch his tyres for the next 52 laps to claim the chequered flag after what had been an epic race. "In these tricky conditions, I think we made some very good calls and we came away with a victory," was Button's verdict. "You might say we were lucky in some ways, but I think we just made the right calls - and that's so important nowadays. A Grand Prix win in a McLaren - sounds good, doesn't it?"

A modern classic, Canada 2011

This was a win for the ages, a classic that will go down in history. It was also arguably Button's finest. From the back of the field, the Briton charged through the order to snatch victory on the final lap - the "best victory of my career," as he put it at the time. "I fought my way from last to first to win the race, and I overtook the cars in front of me on the track - it couldn't have been much sweeter. I can't stop smiling!"

Not for the first time, Button made the right calls at the right time in a race of changeable conditions. Rather than being a tale of simple good judgement, however, this was an extraordinary triumph in every sense. Button visited the pits six times in total; survived contact with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa; and made up 20 places at a rate of almost one per lap over the second half of the Grand Prix. It was his final stop for slicks on a still damp track that ultimately swung the race: running 10th, Button seemed to find an extra gear, a pace none of his rivals could match. Within four laps he was up to fourth, on one occasion slicing around four seconds in a single lap out of Sebastian Vettel's lead. After scything past Mark Webber and then Michael Schumacher, he began inexorably closing on the lead. Under such extreme pressure Vettel finally cracked, running wide at Turn 5 and ceding the lead on the last tour. Button swept by, the final act of a stunning drive. "I really do not know what to say," he mused afterward. "It was a very special race to win from where I was - I will remember this for a long time."

Button calls it right, Hungary 2011

Victory on his 200th Grand Prix start was Button's reward for perfectly judging conditions in a race that was, in his own words, "brilliantly eventful". Rain at the start, and again in the closing stages, meant the result was in almost constant flux, but Button was inch-perfect. From third on the grid he was one of the first to change from intermediate tyres to slicks, giving him the platform to scythe past Sebastian Vettel and set off in pursuit of team mate and leader Lewis Hamilton. Both "on the limit", their battle ebbed and flowed until Hamilton spun as a sudden shower hit at three quarter distance, with Button taking full advantage to snatch the lead. He would drop back to second, but as the rain increased he opted to stay out on slicks - a race-winning call, although it took immense skill to stay on track and maintain tyre temperature for a critical few laps. The rain eased, and Button - once again the master of his own fortune - was triumphant.