Jenson Button is 'a quality driver' who possesses 'a great talent', argues countryman and former sparring partner David Coulthard – but that does not guarantee the Briton will be a fixture on the Formula 1 grid in 2009.
Following 153 grands prix, one victory and 15 rostrum finishes in the top flight since he made his debut with Williams back in 2000, Button's career has been thrown into turmoil by Honda's shock announcement last month that it is to withdraw from the sport with immediate effect.
Though a number of reportedly interested parties have been linked to a buy-out of the Brackley-based operation, no deal has yet been struck – leaving the Frome-based star, for the meantime at least, sitting precariously on the sidelines.
“He'll be with whatever Honda becomes, if someone buys the team,” Coulthard reasoned, “and if not then it will be extremely difficult for him. I don't have a crystal ball to see into the future, but fingers crossed he'll be out on the track.
“There's a lock-out right now from the big teams, because they've all got their drivers lined up. They're not going to kick somebody out to make way for him, so he may end up having to sit on the subs bench this year, but he's young enough – he's the right side of 30 – and he's a great talent.
“Jenson is a quality driver. Quite rightly the talk has been about Lewis [Hamilton] over the last couple of years, but I am a believer in Jenson as a talent, and if he was put in a similar car and in a similar situation, I'm sure he'd win a lot of grands prix.
“There only can be one winner in any sport, and if you can't get behind the winner as a nation, then there's something sadly wrong. I don't think that means that people have forgotten about Jenson; the real hardened followers and those on the inside know what he's capable of.”
Coulthard's own focus in 2009, aside from that of new-found fatherhood – “It's fantastic, but I keep saying 'hi, it's daddy', and he just falls asleep, so I don't think he recognises me!” – will be on his ongoing advisory and occasional testing role with Red Bull Racing, as well as his new commentating duties with the BBC
. The Scot is adamant that he is not missing the action yet, and is simply keen to play the part of an interested observer on the outside looking in.
“I'm just looking forward to continuing going to the grands prix with the BBC
,” the 37-year-old underlined. “I'll still have involvement with Red Bull and I have other businesses too which I'm going to take a bit more time with, so I have no desire to go racing at the moment.
“There have always been cycles in Formula 1. Ferrari have been incredibly consistent over more than the last ten years now, whereas for McLaren this is the first championship for ten years – although they've been at the front, they haven't delivered a championship-winning car.
“[Regarding the new rules], anything that's cost-cutting and doesn't change the dynamic and the availability of performance between the teams and maintains a level playing field I think is good. I haven't looked in detail at the regulations because I've been busy with other things, but I'll try to understand what we're dealing with during the tests with Red Bull.”
by Russell Atkins