Why Jenson's too good to quit
Back in 1997, I was sent to write a story to find out who among that generation of karters might emerge as the next British F1 world champion. Scrabbling around a few dusty paddocks, looking for a diamond in the rough, I bumped into Jenson Button, a noodly teen, skinny as a daddy-longlegs, but in the opinion of those-in-the-karting-know, a young man destined for great things.
I didn't think anything more of JB for the next year or two, but a name like his was hard to forget, so when he broke through first as a major Formula Ford, then a Formula 3 talent, he became lodged in the grey matter.
It wasn't long before F1 got a sniff: first Prost, then Williams, offering him a chance to display those so-supple skills at the wheel of something properly powerful. And by 2000, of course, he'd won a seat at Williams, beating Bruno Junqueira (remember him?) in a shoot-out for a seat alongside Ralf Schumacher. And the rest... well, it's been quite a story, one documented in detail by F1 Racing over the past 15 seasons: from the nightmare of Renault, to the joy of that first win in Hungary, 2006; the lost years at Honda, the Brawn epiphany in 2009, before, latterly, a largely settled time with McLaren - a team where he's been hand-in-glove for at least three of five seasons.
This year, however, the mood in Woking has changed. With Alonso waiting in the wings and a shift in management tone now Ron Dennis is back in charge, the contentment of previous seasons has gone. At the time of writing, McLaren had still not offered Button any kind of driving contract for 2015 and it seems likely that Jenson will take matters into his own hands by seeking a drive in the World Endurance Championship.
And that, in our opinion, would be a crying shame. As you can read in David Tremayne's excellent analysis of Button's contribution to F1 over more than a decade (p42), he's too good for the sport to lose simply because he's fallen out of fashion at Woking. Classy, quick, a fantastic ambassador for F1 and an elder statesman who has matured since those days when he was a baby-faced junior who looked too young for a driving licence, let alone an F1 seat - this is what Jenson Button, 2014-spec, continues to offer. F1 would be poorer for his loss.
Another driver who knows just how it feels when things turn sour at McLaren is Juan Pablo Montoya, who quit the team acrimoniously back in 2006 to return to the US race scene. Our man Maurice Hamilton recently caught up with JPM over lunch - and you won't find a more entertaining read (p98) about a much-loved, much-missed former ace.
Montoya, like Button, made his F1 debut with Williams (remember Brazil '01? How could you forget that pass on Schumacher?) and their resurgence this year with the fleet and elegant FW36 is the subject of a technical analysis on page 72. As any true F1 fan knows, the sport's a better place when Williams are in the mix and their return to front-running action has been one of the feel-good stories of the season. You can even find out what Felipe Massa thinks about it on page 80. Passing Alonso? "Yes, I was very happy..."