Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Still I Surprise
The phrase that titles this article made its way into our language, with practical application, in the late 20th century. It was a phrase believed to be born from Aristotle’s notion that acting virtuous will, over time, make one virtuous. To some extent or another we all on some level understand what this phrase means. The concept and variations of the phrase has since gained popularity in various contexts, none more so than its use to battle depression, substance and alcohol addiction or low self-esteem. It is used in the main, to battle any negative self-fulfilling prophecies and downward spirals born of the above mentioned aliments. Essentially the thought process is that if one acts happy, or walks the path of being sober and not abusing substances, or comes across as overtly confident, then indeed that will in time breed success and thus result in one actually becoming what they are acting, as the eventual real success replaces the act. Get it? Got It? Good.
And with that we leave the world of pseudo-psychology, etymology and “(insert dependency here) anon” meeting rhetoric and we move to a man from Frome in the United Kingdom. I’d like to forewarn Jenson Button fans that this isn’t going to be an aggrandizement of Button. He self-aggrandizes well enough I think. In short, this writer subscribes to the view that the man is not quite ‘Ichiban’ amongst his peers, or indeed even close to it, or ever has been. Possibly the greatest pretender to actually become the act, the greatest pretender to become a Formula One World Drivers Champion, Jenson Button is the perfect example of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’. Of acting like a superstar, acting like a champion, acting like a desired F1 driver and then enjoying the majority of his career as such with reality replacing the act… But is the illusion over? Did the substance in the end replace the act?
Let’s firstly go to the end. In the end, Jenson Button did become a Formula One World Drivers Champion. However in my view the wool is now more or less pulled from the collective eyes of the F1 community, be that the paddock, the specialist media or the fans. Even the specialist media that sits in Camp Button often start an analysis of Jenson with, “yes, he’s not the quickest but…”. Great champions, or even good deserving champions, don’t have their analyses started in such an apologetic way, do they? Those in the unofficial “lucky WDC list” do. What is the “lucky WDC list” I hear you say? Continue reading…
Did Button really convince the world he was a truly competitive champion? Or will he be remembered as one of the lucky few that were in the exact right place, at the exact right time, with the exact right ageing or average team mate, enjoying a one-off car innovation that put him beyond reach of any outside rival. Well to answer that I acknowledge that it was quite a close fight in perception where Button is concerned. Especially as 2011 was maybe his greatest chance to entirely pull the wool over the eyes of anyone remaining who held the suspicion that the ratio of luck to talent was tilted too far toward luck. Perhaps 2011 was his greatest year, reputationally speaking, than even 2009 – the year he became a world champion with the double-decker enhanced Brawn Mercedes. He almost managed, with his savvy team after 2011, to convince the world that, ‘see, I didn’t just have a fluky WDC chance, I am one of the very best drivers, I even beat Lewis overall’. This writer never bought it then, though it was convincing enough.
But I should clarify one point here. It’s not about the fact he is ‘only’ a one-timer as many of the F1 champions are, and we don’t question all their achievements in Formula One. Alan Jones, Nigel Mansell, Jody Scheckter, Kimi Raikkonen, James Hunt, John Surtees and even Keke Rosberg to name but a few great champions of our sport that are one-timers. None of these drivers are really “universally” considered to have lucked into their championships. They have faced off against many difficult teams mates, and won many difficult GP’s in good and, critically, not so good cars, and more or less are considered to deserve what they have. In some cases, it is believed that some may deserve even more, though I do hate that word “deserve”. But the flip side to some “deserving” more, is that by definition some “deserve” less. And now to the list…
One ponders names like, Mario Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, Phil Hill (not Damon’s father Graham) Jenson Button and to a far, far lesser extent Damon Hill and it’s generally – “generally” being the key word – accepted that those titles were won under quite fortuitous circumstances across the board. One factor to qualifying for this Lucky List, on all occasions, is the team mates that were sharing the same car were not considered great or even good. Perhaps, quick and/or solid, but not great internal challenges.
Team Mates to Lucky List WDC’s:
1961: Phil Hill – Richie Ginther & Wolfgang von Trips (Ferrari)
1978: Mario Andretti – Ronnie Peterson (Lotus)
1996: Damon Hill – Jacques Villeneuve (rookie and very nearly nicked the title anyway) (Williams-Renault)
1997: Jacques Villeneuve – Heinz Harald Frentzen (Williams-Renault)
2009: Jenson Button – Rubens Barrichello (Ageing and on the wane. Never balls out quick) (Brawn-Mercedes)
In combination with the above parameter, to qualify for the Lucky list, in all circumstances their cars were considered either the very best of the year, or the very best for a big part of the year and thereafter remained at least equal best. There is no shame in using the best car to win a title, Senna, Schumacher, Fangio, Clark and Prost all did it. But in this list, outside of their average team mates above, there was little genuine outside challenge and yet strangely in some cases they still almost threw away their respective title chances.
Let’s analyze this second parameter to qualify for the Lucky List in the form of the WDC runner-up and “outside team mate rival challenges” of those same drivers.
Runner Up’s and/or Closest non-team mate Rivals:
1961 – Phill Hill, RUN UP: Wolfgang von Trips (team mate leading title until fatal accident and Phil Hill final race win)
1978 – Mario Andretti, RUN UP: Ronnie Peterson (contracted number two and killed at Monza)
1996 – Damon Hill, RUN UP: Jacques Villeneuve (rookie team mate with Schumacher in 1st year with useless Ferrari)
1997 – Jacques Villeneuve, RUN UP: Michael Schumacher (in a Ferrari that did not deserve to be leading into the final race)
2009 – Jenson Button, RUN UP: Sebastian Vettel (a near rookie in an emerging Red Bull. Even the Double Decker Diffuser early-to-mid season advantage was almost washed away, but for an extra round or two, Vettel may have been a 5 time WDC.)
Ok I think we are starting to get a sense of what qualifies for this Lucky List. Let’s now try to put some science behind it.
The unofficial mental equation I suppose might be, “vastly superior car quality” multiplied by “poor quality team mate” divided by “lack of outside team rival” to the power of“almost losing the title” = “lucky one off WDC”.
I believe that to be true in all these cases I listed above. Despite my WDC Lucky List hypothesis being consistent with reasonably logical observation, and the above equation justifying the findings / results, a good analyst looks for further confirmation. Admittedly this is anecdotal however confirmation in these cases, beyond the equation, is that these drivers usually failed to dominate future team mates, and on occasion past teams mates. This factor is the final nail in the coffin of giving them credibility as one of the best champions in the sport in their day. In all analytics, it seems to be a series of planets aligning to give a lucky driver, in the right circumstances, perfection for just the right amount of time to become a “points champion”. And all these guys almost lost the title in the end anyway (to a lesser or greater extent), despite it being handed to them on a silver platter.
Back to Jenson Button:
As I said above, 2011 was potentially the year that Jenson Button could have avoided this list. Though it’s clear now, in retrospect, that Hamilton was terrible in 2011. Hamilton’s heart-on-the-sleeve approach in bad times, coupled with very poor psychology management permeated every application of the brake and every turn of the wheel he made that year. His performances and results were reflective of a wasted year for Hamilton and ultimately a big stain in the final analysis of the “pioneer’s” career. That being said, and on a side note, it makes me wonder how good the McLaren Mercedes of 2011 really was considering Button came Runner Up, even beating Webber in the sister Red Bull and Alonso in the Ferrari. Had Hamilton been stable that year, perhaps he’d have caused Vettel a bit more trouble in what was a Red Bull Renault / Sebastian Vettel white wash. And therein lay the issue of Hamilton, can he really lay claim to being one of the greatest with all the wasted opportunities? Could 2011 have realistically been a WDC opportunity for McLaren given 1) what Jenson Button did that year, and 2) the usual superiority Hamilton had on Button in 2010 and 2012? We won’t know, but I suspect 2011 needs to be added to the growing list of Hamilton’s wasted opportunities that now include, in my opinion, 2007, 2010, 2012 and to this stage 2014 (given he is 2nd in the WDC in the best car).
So Jenson now joins the unspoken, but very apparent, list of lucky WDC’s. Yes they were all fast drivers to be sure. World class drivers, no doubt. They are worthy F1 race winner at times, on their day. But the champions of their day? Probably not. The great Ayrton Senna once intimated that at the end of a year sometimes there is a champion, sometimes just a driver who collected the most points. I think the latter is true of these drivers and none more so than Jenson Button himself.
The flip side:
With all that analysis, research and formulation of the unofficial WDC lucky list equation, one might think the article is over. You still don’t know SiS. Beyond liking the sound of my own voice, I tend to see two sides of the coin.
In some ways it’s admirable that Jenson and the other nominated drivers on this list achieved what they have. There would be some that say, ‘well, that was their one chance and they took it’. And indeed they did. Like Rosberg Jnr. is doing now, thought in my opinion if Rosberg Jnr. wins, he won’t join this list as he had to beat Hamilton for the title. The equation would spit him off qualifying for the list.
In Jenson’s case, he has double digit wins, a world title, and a year where he even beat one of the most highly rated drivers of our time, Lewis Hamilton, which is the only time, to date, Lewis lost to any team mate on points over a season (Maybe this year will be his second?) . He has started in over 250 grand prix and counting, a very commendable longevity, and considering the man who very nearly was out of F1 at the end of 2008 with only one lucky win in the rain in Hungary in 2006, he kept “acting” the part. He kept faking it, till he made it, and indeed he did make it. In a way.
In the end, despite all the analysis showing him on this unofficial WDC lucky list, it counts for naught in that he IS a world champion. Despite the suspicions that a good proportion of his success comes from being politically savvy, perhaps in greater quantities than in pure driving talent, a big portion also must have come from plugging away, hard graft, fighting and patience. Fighting for over a decade and sheer will are admirable too. That’s the sort of thing a parent gives a child, so hats off to Button Snr. And in the end, even Fernando Alonso says he’d prefer titles to respect. From that view, who would you rather be. Stirling Moss or Jenson Button? I’d choose Button, even though the knowledgeable fans know Moss has more talent in one finger than Jenson could dream of.
It is in this way that Jenson Button being on the lucky list, and indeed leading it in my opinion, increases my respect for the man, who wasted not a drop of his talent, yet at the same time understanding that he is a title winner by virtue of an end of year points total and not a champion driver of his day.
In closing, I’d like to hear your opinions in the comments as to the driver that best resembles the luckiest world champion in F1 history for you. For me, it’s Jenson Button. I suspect for most of you it is too, and if not, it will be one of the ones I mentioned above probably. If not, I am all ears.