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Button still chasing victory at 100
Alan Baldwin | October 13, 2005 16:33 IST
BAR's Jenson Button makes Formula One history at the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend as the youngest driver to compete in 100 races.
But the 25-year-old Briton also knows that no man has won the drivers' crown without celebrating at least one victory before clocking up a century of starts.
Mika Hakkinen had to wait the longest of all the champions to date, without a win for 96 races before his triumph at Jerez in the 1997 European Grand Prix opened the floodgates. The Finn then won titles with McLaren in 1998 and 1999.
However, while Hakkinen was 29 when he finally climbed to the top step of the podium, Button can be confident that he has time on his side.
"It is very annoying that I have not won yet but it is no use talking about it, I just have to do something about it," he said. "When I do get my first win it will make it that little bit more emotional.
"I wouldn't change how my career has gone. I have made mistakes but I have learned from them. I have experienced a lot, more than most.
"Some drivers are lucky enough when they come into Formula One to get straight into a top team and win races and some people aren't."
It is debatable whether Button, who does not count this year's US Grand Prix fiasco in his tally of races after he and the other Michelin-equipped drivers pulled out after the parade lap, has had a car capable of winning.
He came close in 2004, with four second places, but Ferrari were in a class of their own with 15 victories from 18 races.
This season Button's Honda-backed team were disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix for fuel and weight irregularities and then barred from two more races.
He returned to the podium with third places in Germany and Belgium, but the BAR is still no match for Renault and McLaren.
After entering the sport as a 20-year-old with Williams, and becoming the youngest points scorer in Formula One history before moving to Benetton and then Renault, Button is in danger of being eclipsed by younger rivals.
Renault's Fernando Alonso, the youngest champion at 24, won his first race at the age of 22 years and 27 days while McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was only 23 when he triumphed in Malaysia in 2003.
Between the two of them, they have won 13 times this year.
One could point out that Button's compatriot Jackie Stewart never reached 100 starts, retiring in 1973 after 99 and with his third title won. Briton James Hunt retired after 92 starts, winning the championship in 1976.
But times have changed, with far more races on the calendar and driver safety greatly improved.
"It is all statistics and I think Jenson is still pretty young so I don't see a problem for him at all," said Button's former Williams team mate Ralf Schumacher.
"He showed already last year that he has the potential, he was very consistent and made the best of the package. I'm sure if he has the car he can win a championship, no doubt."
Ralf, who is coming up to his 10th year in Formula One, said the car is crucial -- as his older brother and seven-times champion Michael Schumacher had showed this year.
"If you don't have the car, you are nowhere. Michael was nowhere," said Ralf. "He was called the best ever Formula One driver and even the best ever, which he clearly is with all his titles, is not able to win a race with an average car."
BAR boss Nick Fry agreed. Button, he said, has no "monkey" on his back about not winning: "The monkey, if you like, is on the team's back to provide a good car," he said.
"I don't think Jenson has any monkey on his back at all. I know that Fernando would say exactly the same thing: If you've got an excellent car then if you're a good driver you can bring home the results.
"If Jenson had been under-performing in an excellent car that would be something totally different.
"But that's not the situation at all. He's driving what clearly isn't the best car to the best of his ability, which is to a very high level. I really don't buy that there is any huge pressure on Jenson.
"He just hasn't had the right equipment at the right time. I see no reason whatsoever why Jenson shouldn't be a champion."
Photographs: Getty Images
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