Jenson Button is 'a damn good driver who's perfectly capable of winning the championship' in Formula 1 - that is Murray Walker's assessment of a man who over the past two campaigns in the top flight has notched up just nine points.

Four years ago Button enjoyed the best season of his now nine-year F1 career, finishing up on the podium ten times in 18 races for BAR-Honda as he went on to claim the not inconsiderable honour of 'best-of-the-rest' behind the dominant Ferrari pairing of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at the close of the campaign.

Two years later the 28-year-old achieved another important milestone when he famously and popularly triumphed in the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest from a lowly 14th position following a grid penalty, mastering the tricky conditions to perfection as many of his rivals - Schumacher amongst them - came unstuck.

Since then, however, in the interceding 40 races Button has ascended the rostrum just once, as his fortunes have slumped hand-in-hand with those of his employer Honda. What's more, he has had to put up with the ignominy of being replaced as the darling of British fans' hearts by newly-crowned F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Veteran commentator Walker is adamant that, given the right car, the Frome-based star can still shine.

"I haven't included Jenson Button," the 85-year-old told Radio when asked to name his top ten drivers of 2008, "not because I don't think he's a damn good driver who's perfectly capable of winning the championship, because I do think he's a damn good driver who is capable of winning the championship - but I've left him out just on the facts of what happened to him during the season.

"He wasn't able to show how good he is and demonstrate his talent simply because the car he was driving wasn't good enough for him to be able to do so. You can say the same thing about some of the other drivers as well; you could say it about [Giancarlo] Fisichella, and maybe even Adrian Sutil.

"I don't believe he has missed his chance, but I would agree with people who say he's the forgotten driver. First of all he hasn't been able to show this season how good he is because the car wouldn't allow him to, and secondly - obviously - he's been totally overshadowed by the Lewis Hamilton factor, where the whole nation has gone berserk about him.

"There wasn't any room left for poor old Jenson, but if he gets the right car next year - and hopefully he will have, because Honda are starting off from the same place as everyone else with the regulation changes - I'm utterly confident that Jenson can win races, and if you can win races you can win the championship."

The man who became a much-loved British institution over the course of a commentating career for both the BBC and ITV that spanned almost three decades also contended that David Coulthard - who brought down the curtain on his long and successful stint in F1 at the end of the 2008 season, and a man Walker describes as 'one of the nicest people it's ever been my privilege to meet' - has hung up his helmet at precisely the right time.

"This is going to sound a bit churlish," he admitted, "but they all have to go some time or other. David Coulthard is one of the nicest people it's ever been my privilege to meet, but he's won 13 grands prix, he's made a great deal of money, he's scored more world championship points than any other British driver - indeed he's fourth on the all-time list of points-scorers - he's at last found a woman that he's happy with and they're about to have a child.

"He's had a wonderful Formula 1 career, he's come out of it totally unscathed without scratching himself in spite of a lot of collisions that he's had and he's got a great future in front of him. In a situation where they all have to go some time, I'm not sad to see him go, but I very much respect him as a person and regard myself as very lucky to have known him as long as I have done and to have commentated on as many races of his as I did."

by Russell Atkins



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