APR 20th 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost ‑ Bright Button Beats The Bahrain Blues

Like the well-brought-up, well-educated, articulate, intelligent and gracious pro that he is, Jenson Button batted off the wretched disappointment of having to miss the Bahrain Grand Prix with a tweet praising his McLaren team for its tireless efforts to get his recalcitrant Honda-powered MP4-30 to work properly.

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As U probably are aware I will not b taking part in the Bahrain GP, the guys have worked flat out 2 get the car built but we’re unable to run’ wrote the 2009 World Champion, who, before energy-recovery problems were found, was on course to start his 100th race for McLaren – at the same desert venue where he first carried the #1 after joining the Woking squad for his title defence in 2010.

A lesser man may well have ranted publicly, flinging around accusations of incompetence and demotivation. After all, this historic, ultra-successful operation that has won 182 grands prix and countless drivers’ and constructors’ world titles is firing blanks at the moment.

McLaren’s rekindling of a relationship with Honda that yielded four consecutive title doubles in just five seasons across the late 1980s and early ’90s has yet to yield any points finishes, for either Button or illustrious team-mate Fernando Alonso. In fact, 11th place is the best both men have managed so far.

‘When he eventually decides to go and be successful at – and enthusiastic about – something else, the sport will be poorer without him.’

What a wrench to be told that you can’t race, particularly after a weekend of endless problems – made up of aborted practice sessions and a qualifying hour in which you break down on your first lap out of the pits. The 35-year-old would have been desperate to put miles on the car, having managed just 32 laps all weekend. That compares, rather unfavourably, with table-topper Valtteri Bottas, who racked up 150 for Williams.

It’s the first time Button has missed a race since the 2005 US GP at Indianapolis, when all the Michelin-tyre-shod cars, including his BAR, were ‘withdrawn’ on safety grounds just before the start, leaving the six Bridgestone runners to race on their own.

Instead of sulking off to hide in the confines of the team’s hospitality unit, or heading straight for the airport, he stuck around and carried on tweeting, offering prophetic punditry (‘Kimi is the man to watch, looking after his tyres well’) and reminding us that he’s a race fan at heart (‘Loving the sparks from the cars’).

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A big shame, then, for Button, who’s a class act and a splendid ambassador for Formula 1. When he eventually decides to go and be successful at – and enthusiastic about – something else, the sport will be poorer without him.

McLaren’s current plight is disappointing, too. I’ve long been a big fan of the team, its history, reputation and success. I was lucky enough to edit its in-house magazine some years ago and quickly came to appreciate the pure-racing-team aura and the passion and dedication that pervaded every inch of its vast headquarters and its garages at races. Those F1, Indianapolis 500, Can-Am and Le Mans victories give it a provenance in motorsport that’s hard to match.

What was good enough for world champions Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton, as well as team founder Bruce McLaren and his Kiwi chum Denny Hulme in those fearsome, orange M8 Can-Am powersledges, is good enough for me, obviously.

I know I’m not alone in hoping the McLaren-Honda alliance, 2015-vintage, comes good soon. It won’t be for a lack of passion and dedication from the team or its drivers.

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