Age is only a number. Cameroon footballer Roger Milla scored a World Cup goal, aged 41. Tennis great Martina Navratilova was still playing competitively until she was 47, in a time when 30 was considered ‘past it’. And the great Juan Manuel Fangio won five world titles in his 40’s. He’s considered by some to be the greatest ever. Jenson Button, meanwhile, is a youthful 34.
His team, McLaren, are, quite rightly, seeking a world class driver for 2015. They are set to rekindle their famous partnership with engine suppliers Honda next year. They will hope that this will catapult them back to the front after six years without a championship. This season they sit sixth in the Constructors Standings.
Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are on their radar. Hamilton is seemingly the most unlikely given that he is in the fastest car and could end up the 2014 World Champion this season.
Team Boss, Ron Dennis is making unpleasant noises. Button should work harder, he said. Maybe Ron should be telling that to his technical team who have produced under-achieving cars for Button since his move in 2010.
This is Button’s fifth year at McLaren. He is out of contract at the end of the season and there is currently an ongoing saga about whether or not he will be offered a new one. At 34, he may not have many years left. In sport you must look to the future, but only if the time is right. There will be a time when a changing of the guard will happen. Take this season: Valtteri Bottas, Danil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo are shining against more experienced team-mates. Jenson’s team-mate, Kevin Magnussen, at 21 is the future. But he’s not the present. He sits 20 points behind Button in the standings. The time isn’t right here, not yet.
Button has scored 55 of McLaren’s 90 points. He has won eight races for them since 2010 and has had to endure the terrible cars they have produced last season and this season. He consistently drags the car round the track faster than it should go and is one of the cleverest drivers on the grid. His feel for the track in wet conditions is unrivalled.
In the British Grand Prix, he fought with spirit as he hunted down Daniel Ricciardo and almost snatched a late podium. Earlier in the race he didn’t possess the pace to keep faster cars behind. But he battled and was almost rewarded with a fine result. For the record, Magnussen finished seventh. If McLaren do bring in one of their targets then Button would be perfect team-mate. Fast, reliable and consistent. Ask Hamilton.
But it seems easy to kick Button. He isn’t regarded in the same bracket as his fellow world champions: Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen. He isn’t as naturally fast. When the car isn’t absolutely to his liking he can struggle. He doesn’t pull as many rabbits out of the hat, as Alonso and Hamilton do consistently. His 2009 World Championship success was based on a car that was, at the beginning of the season, significantly faster than anything else.
When you compare Button to those other drivers then it is true he may fall short in a game of ‘Top Trumps’. But the grid isn’t made up of drivers in the same calibre of the top four. Button is faster, more consistent and more intelligent than the rest. Ask Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen, his previous and latest team-mates. They are seemingly two of the hottest young drivers in the sport. Button has, quite frankly, dominated both of them.
Magnussen has time to improve. But, if McLaren are going to go all out for one of the top three, then it should be him out of the door. In nine races so far he has shown that he has enough quality to hang around for a few years. He is younger and a better long-term option for McLaren. But Formula One lives in the short-term. McLaren will need experience on hand as the move to new engine suppliers quickens. Button is the man.
Age is a number. Dennis should know that, he’s 67.
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