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Jenson Button: My 2009 memories

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 19/5/2019
Ross Brawn, Jenson Button are posing for a picture © Getty

In the first diary looking back at his 2009 world championship year, Sky F1's Jenson Button recalls his Honda regret, the birth of Brawn at testing, and acing the start to the season... 'The end of my career?'

I do love Christmas, but the 2008 Christmas wasn't one of the best. I spent the winter looking for a drive after Honda pulled out of F1.

The moment that I got the news about Honda, I was at the conveyor belt at Heathrow airport and I'd just come back from Lanzarote on a training camp. Every year I'd go there for a couple of weeks training and every year I'd got fitter, every year I became a better me, or so I thought anyway. It was really good training with my physio and my crew.

I got a call when I got off the plane from Richard my manager saying 'please call me'. It's never the message you want from your manager. Had the little kiss mark after as well. It's never a nice feeling when you get that message from anyone. I eventually got service at the carousel, picked up the phone to Richard and called him.

"Hey Richard, how's it going mate?"

"I'm really sorry to give you this news... but you won't be racing with Honda in F1 in 2009."

"But I have a contract with them to race."

"Yes, but they're pulling out of the sport."

I said to him 'what other options do we have?' He said 'none this moment in time'. So after such a high of getting ready for the 2009 season, I sunk to a massive low thinking this could be the end of my career.

We thought that we had this perfect car, and power unit package for 2009 but obviously with the crisis around the world and especially in Japan they thought it would look wrong to be racing in 2009. It was a weird time in my life because I'd been racing for nine years in Formula 1, and I had one GP victory to my name in 2006, which definitely wasn't enough. I wanted to be fighting for a world championship, or at least race wins.

So at that moment in time I was looking around searching for a way to go racing in 2009 and there were a couple of options and the main option was to possibly race with Toro Rosso. There was a seat available but that was the only real option available in F1 apart from racing with the team that became Brawn.

The birth of Brawn

Who knows what would've happened if Brawn didn't exist in 2009. We were in communication with Franz Tost, the Toro Rosso boss, who said there was availability to race for them - which was a lovely option to have but also an option I knew wouldn't bring me race victories that moment in time.

I was ready. I was 29 years old and ready to win races and fight for championships. Having two or three more years fighting in the mid pack was not what I needed that moment in time. I would take any drive in F1 at that moment but for me the big drive was to push to get the Brawn car on track.

Obviously it wasn't called Brawn then. We didn't know what it was going to be called, if it would exist, or who would be funding it. So we were searching around, Richard and myself, for a sponsor, partners or people who could buy the team, and for weeks on end keeping in contact with Nick Fry and Ross Brawn. Eventually they turned around and said 'you don't need to search anymore, we are going to take the team over'.

I remember walking into the factory when it was announced that we were going to be racing in 2009, and the team was going to be called Brawn GP. I mean everyone was flat-out because they'd had so many days and weeks off because they didn't think they'd have a job in 2009. Suddenly everyone was flat-out making a car, building a car, trying to place an engine in a car that didn't fit. I remember looking at Ross and saying is it going to be ready for testing and he said the last test, it'll be ready for the last test. We might not make all the days, it might be the last day of testing.

I was like wow, OK. I didn't think it would be a quick car. I just wanted to be on the grid and work with this team I'd worked with for so many years, since 2003 I'd originally worked with BAR, then Honda, and then Brawn GP, so it was a real family atmosphere. To see guys scurrying around and building this work of art - it really was was very special.

A testing surprise

We went to a shakedown at Silverstone - there was no one else there, they were already off testing in Spain and we had this little tent at the Stowe circuit at Silverstone.

I don't know if we couldn't afford the whole circuit or what, but we had this tiny little circuit to drive around where people learnt to drive road cars, in a tent and when it first fired up, this car with his name on the side, I think it was quite an emotional moment for Ross and the whole team.

I jumped in, put the seat belts on and already felt very at home, drove out for an installation lap, came straight back in, everything ran perfect. After an installation lap you always spend 10-15mins downtime to check everything was OK, but it felt like three hours because I just wanted to get back into this car and see what it could do. Eventually I could drive it out, the gear shift was smooth, the brake pedal came to me quickly. It just felt right. With a new car you always have little issues but we didn't have one issue with this car and it was rushed together. So I left that shakedown test with a smile on my face, knowing that it felt nice to drive and we had no issues. That was the first time I felt it was coming together.

I drove the car, the Brawn GP 01, at the last official test in Barcelona. Everyone had been pounding around for days. I jumped in, went out, put a lap time in, and I remember coming back in and telling Shov, my race engineer Andrew Shovlin, chief engineer now at Mercedes, that it feels alright but the set up doesn't feel quite right, we're understeering here, snappy with the rear end and he looked at me smiling.

"Why are you grinning so much?," I asked him. He said: "Because your first lap time was six tenths quicker than anyone has gone this test."

"You're kidding, right?"

He said no. I said let's get this car working - get the set up right and see what she can really do!

At that point the team said maybe we won't run low-fuel anymore, so we didn't run low fuel all test but we ended up at the end of the day with the quickest lap by one second, so it was a shock for everyone I think. I think we knew we'd built this fantastic car, Honda had put so much effort into building this car for the 2009 season and in a way it was sad they couldn't be part of it even though I think they did feel part of it. Massive thanks to Mercedes Benz for letting us have their power unit and dropping it into the car. I think they were shocked at the performance of the Brawn GP 01.

We left the first test very happy with ourselves. We finally found a balance that worked. We were obviously very quick. The regulations had changed so much from 2008 to 2009 but we went quicker whereas everyone else went a lot slower. So we were confident of our speed, but we hadn't done many runs over eight laps so there were no high fuel runs, nothing in terms of race prep. No pitstop practice. Car completely different. In the first race we knew we'd be competitive, but weren't sure if we'd finish - let alone fight for the win.

Dream start to the season

It was really nice arriving at the paddock in Melbourne because we were the underdog - this team a few weeks before didn't exist. It was a private team up against the big guys. But they also knew we had some potential, looking at the testing times. The whole of the Melbourne weekend we were flat-out as a team, practising pit stops, trying to do everything and the best bit was that we had no mechanical issues, so we could do as much running as we wanted, more than anyone else over that weekend. So we were pretty confident going into qualifying and the race that we had a package that could fight for the win.

I still remember my qualifying lap in Melbourne, it's crazy, it's 10 years ago! But that's the one that probably stands out the most just because it was such a shock to the system to take this car that had tested at the Stowe circuit at Silverstone just a couple of weeks before - to Melbourne, the first GP of the year, and put it on pole position. I remember everything about that lap which I can't say for many laps I've done. So it all ran really smoothly.

The race start was great, the car pulled away well, which again was a surprise, and in terms of our tyre strategy that was fantastic as well, putting the tyres on at the right time. The team hadn't lost it at all even though we'd had such a tough winter. We crossed that finish line first and second and it was a relief I think for everyone that we'd completed that first race. We were on the top step as a privateer, the first time that's been done for decades in their first GP.

Malaysia was a weird GP, as it always is! We came from Melbourne, super dry, hot. Here it was super wet, it was flooded like a lake. I've watched it since and I was amazed what we were driving through in an F1 car and keeping it on the track. So to get a win in hot conditions and wet conditions really proved that this car was strong wherever you took it. The start didn't go quite to plan - we lost a couple of places but we were able to fight back before the first pitstop and lead the race before it was red flagged for half points. But I didn't care. I was stood on the top of the podium and that was all that mattered.

We left the first two races with maximum points that were on offer. Went to Shanghai and expected more of the same. Wasn't the case. Red Bull were very strong there, it was really tough conditions. Really wet. Lots of rivers running around the track and to be fair to Sebastian [Vettel] he just disappeared into the distance. I ended up fighting for most of the race with Mark Webber. I thought I was fighting with him but I couldn't see anything. The spray! We had a good ding dong and to come away with a podium, weirdly, felt really disappointing. When you've won two races its really disappointing being on the bottom step of the podium and that's something I didn't think I'd get used to so quickly especially in my season, winning two races and a third was a disappointment.

In Bahrain we qualified fourth. Remember back then some cars had KERS, so we came off the line and I was immediately passed by Lewis (Hamilton) into Turn One and I knew I had to get past him. I knew I had to make a break and get a gap because the Red Bulls seemed really quick in testing, their long run pace was really good. So I got around the outside of Vettel through Turns Two and Three and then set off after Lewis, knowing he was going to be really difficult to overtake because they've got KERS and the boost out of corners.

I got him into Turn One. I dived down the inside and it was one of my most enjoyable moves, definitely. Passing the reigning world champion and a Brit, also a future team-mate, and then I had to set off after the Toyotas. Once we'd finished with our pitstops I ended up leading, winning the race from Sebastian, getting back onto the top step of the podium, where it felt like home already. After only four races we'd won three GP's, so it was pretty special.

Could this be my year?

Barcelona was a key race. A lot of people had updates, they'd designed their floors like ours. At the start of the year there were three teams, Toyota, Williams and Brawn who had a double diffuser, and a lot of people ended going that route for Barcelona, if not Monaco. So to get pole position here was really important.

I struggled in practice to get a balance, finally got one, put it on pole by the smallest of margins to Vettel. I then had a good start in the race, but I was passed by Rubens into Turn One, and at that point I knew I can't sit behind him as overtaking is really tricky so I tried a different strategy which should've been slower but worked out really well. We won the race, so four out of five heading to Monaco. What could be better?

Barcelona is one of those races that sets you up for the season, how the race goes. Everyone's got their new packages. So after that race I knew that this was the year that I would be fighting for the world championship.

In F1 in a team that's a private team, even though we had a really quick car, you think to yourself, this might be it, this might be the year and the only year because you don't know what the future holds. So you put so much pressure on yourself to succeed and to perform because you think if it doesn't happen now it might never happen.

Look out for more later in the season...

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