Jenson Button should perhaps have been more mindful of the bigger picture when making his decision about where to drive in F1 2010, three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart has opined – as the Scot fears his fellow Brit's thirst for a short-term challenge could end up doing his long-term reputation no favours at all.
Two months ago, Button surprised just about the whole paddock – not least of whom, it would seem, his boss Ross Brawn – in electing to jump ship from the safe, familiar surroundings of Brawn GP to pit himself head-to-head against countryman and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes.
All very well and very noble, you might consider, except for one tiny little fact – Hamilton and McLaren have been inseparable ever since the Stevenage-born ace was a nine-year-old karter back in the mid-1990s, when the driver who would go on to become the 2008 F1 World Champion cheekily asked then team principal Ron Dennis for his 'phone number and after receiving it was told to call him when he was a bit older.
Indeed, so firmly-entrenched is the relationship between Hamilton and McLaren that even double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso – widely-renowned as one of the sport's most mentally and psychologically strong competitors – was unable to cope, and left the Woking-based outfit after a sole unhappy season there in 2007, during which accusations of favouritism towards his team-mate were rarely far from the surface.
That being the case, some have surmised that in entering the lion's den as such, Button is in effect offering himself up as a feast, and conventional wisdom goes that the 29-year-old should simply have swallowed his pride at an earlier stage and settled for the financial offer that was on the table at Brawn – now Mercedes Grand Prix – for 2010, rather than insisting on holding out for more money and ultimately walking away when no more was forthcoming.
Pure greed, his detractors claim, led Button to the arguably unenviable situation in which he now finds himself – but whilst tending to agree that he should have signed on the dotted line with Brawn when he still had the option to, Stewart hints that the seven-time grand prix-winner may in truth have had no real choice.
“I'm not in possession of all the facts,” the 1969, 1971 and 1973 F1 World Champion told Crash.net Radio
, “but I think clearly, had he made his decision maybe three or four weeks earlier, he would have been with Mercedes. I think he should have made that decision at that time; I think at that time it was entirely financial from his point-of-view, but I think the difference would not have been so great that he shouldn't have taken into consideration the benefits that he had by staying, with having Ross Brawn there and having the people he had enjoyed working with and who had generated the success for him.
“I would have expected him to stay there, but he has changed many, many times in different circumstances and moved to and from teams, sometimes quite unsuccessfully – and you've got to learn from those errors. There is no doubt that in the early part of the season his car was significantly better than that of the competition. From seven races he achieved six victories and one third place, which is pretty remarkable by any standard in the history of the sport. The early part of the season surely took everybody's breath away and he drove magnificently; he drove in a most beautiful style that I would have been proud of, I think Jim Clark would have been proud of and so would Alain Prost – that same clean, smooth way of driving.
“I thought that was magic, but over the second half of the season it was pretty certain that Rubens [Barrichello – team-mate] was actually doing a better job, up until the last race. I am not certain that Mercedes-Benz – by the time they came to buy the Brawn team – wanted Jenson, because of what they saw in the second half of the season with the possible exception of the last two races, but even those weren't what you would call breathtaking. It could have been that Mercedes chose not to have him when it came down to push-and-shove in respect of a particular amount of money that he might have wanted. He made a choice, obviously, but maybe he had no choice.”