The story of how Jenson Button and Brawn GP won the world driver’s and constructor’s championship in 2009 is well-known.
The team, born from the ashes of the Honda team, were seen as lucky to even be racing after Honda’s 2008 pull-out. A last-minute buy-out enabled them to go racing in 2009.
But instead of merely competing for points, Brawn GP would go on to claim both championships. They notched up the unique feat of becoming the first – and till date only – debutant constructor to win both titles in their first year.
However, the success brought with it plenty of change. For one, Mercedes – who at the time were engine partners of McLaren and even owned a minority stake in the team – were keen to re-enter Formula 1 as a full-time constructor.
They had also supplied engines to Brawn, after Honda did not make an engine for the 2009 season. And they chose to buy out Ross Brawn and rebrand the team again – as the Mercedes F1 team.
The changes weren’t only in the team name. Rumours had already done the rounds that Button himself was keen to move from the team.
And while most around him denied the rumours, he would eventually sign for McLaren. In fact, it was on this very day 12 years back that he made the switch.
With so much time having passed since the move, let us look back at how and why the move transpired – as well as how it worked out for both parties.
After the end of the 2009 season, there was plenty of speculation over Brawn’s driver line-up. This was mostly due to the takeover by Mercedes, with many speculating the team would like a German driver in their ranks.
However, few if any expected Jenson Button to be moved on. He was not only the team’s best driver but also the defending world champion. Surely the new team would work out a deal with him, right?
Well, not so much. Mercedes were keen to keep the Brit in their line-up, although they did get Germany’s Nico Rosberg to replace Rubens Barrichello; the Brazilian took up Rosberg’s vacated seat at Williams.
Button, however, was keen for a new challenge. This was mainly because he did not believe the Mercedes buy-out would offer him a chance at retaining his world title.
Mercedes did buy out the team but, at the time, did so without locating potential sponsors. Thus, Button told his manager Richard Goodard he wanted a new challenge.
The other reason he chose to leave was a lack of commitment to developing the car for 2010. Brawn GP were on a shoestring budget compared to other teams and barely developed their 2009 car; as such, they didn’t make much progress on the following season’s car either.
All of this played a part in him signing for McLaren, where he would complete an all-British driver’s line-up alongside 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Upon joining the team, Button expressed excitement at being part of one of Britain’s most successful F1 teams.
“Although I won the World Championship with Brawn GP last year, and I’ll never forget that, I was always adamant that I wanted to continue to set myself fresh challenges.
“That’s why I’ve decided to join Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. You can’t help but be affected by this team’s phenomenal history.
“McLaren is one of the greats of world sport, and its achievements and list of past champions read like a Who’s Who of Formula 1 – Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and of course my new team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
“I’ve followed the McLaren team ever since I was a small boy, and it feels unbelievable to finally be a part of it.”
His time at the team, however, was a mixed bag at best. He began 2010 brightly, winning the first two races and notching several podium and points finishes thereafter. However, a tailing off in the second half of the season saw him finish fifth in the championship.
2011 saw him come closest to a world title at McLaren. It was a year in which he finished second in the championship, claiming 3 wins and 12 podium finishes.
2012 was an interesting season for Button and McLaren. The team took 6 wins – 3 each for both drivers – and their car was clearly competitive.
However, Hamilton would finish the season in fourth and Button in fifth. This would be the two drivers’ last year together as Hamilton joined Mercedes for 2013.
Nevertheless, while Button did not secure a world championship in those 3 years, he did outscore Hamilton over 3 seasons – and finish ahead of him on one occasion.
However, things got decidedly worse for Jenson Button and McLaren thereafter. The team did not create competitive cars and would eventually choose to end their engine deal with Mercedes.
They brought Honda back to F1, with many seeing it as a positive sign; the McLaren-Honda was one of the fastest cars in the late ’80s. However, the deal was disastrous for both sides and resulted in a thoroughly average car.
All the while, Button’s enthusiasm for the sport was beginning to dwindle. The lack of results in the latter cars took its toll, as did the death of his father.
By 2016, his active career had pretty much come to a close. He had a year remaining on his deal but was instead placed in an ambassadorial role for the team.
He did make one final appearance, however, in the 2017 Monaco GP. His race ended after a crash with Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein.
Since then, he’s raced in SuperGT and sports cars and is currently a senior advisor for Williams F1 team.