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EMERSON FITTIPALDI (1972 & 1974)
Named after the famous American author Ralph Waldo Emmerson, he began competing on motorcycles at the age of 14 before switching to karts. Helped by his older brother Christian, Emerson manufactured and marketed the Mini-kart, on which he became Brazilian champion. He came to Britain in 1969 and made an immediate impression in Formula Ford races, quickly moving up into F3 before joining Colin Chapman’s F2 team. Chapman entered him for the 1970 British Grand Prix in a third Lotus, intending that this should serve as a gradual introduction into F1. However, Jochen Rindt was killed at Monza that year and his death persuaded the second Lotus driver John Miles into retirement. At a stroke, Fittipaldi was promoted from junior member into the new team leader. He rose to the challenge magnificently by winning the US Grand Prix four weeks later. After capturing the title in 1972 he had a poor season as his team-mate Ronnie Peterson proved to be much quicker. A switch to McLaren gave him another F1 crown but his next move to the Copersucar Fittipaldi team was less successful. He retired from F1 in 1980 but has since won CART and Indianapolis 500 titles.
JODY SCHECKTER (1979)
Soon after arriving here in 1970, the South African became known as a “spinner or a winner”. Before then, he’d raced karts in his home country, but freely admits that the standards were much lower than in Europe. After a short spell in saloon cars he won the South African Formula Ford Championships and with it a scholarship of £300 to race in Europe. Two years in Formula Ford and F3 gave him his first F1 drive at the 1972 US Grand Prix where he finished 9th. McLaren then signed him up as their third driver for 1973. A spin at the British Grand Prix was responsible for causing the biggest crash in F1 history, eliminating 10 cars. Despite calls by the GPDA for Scheckter to be banned, Ken Tyrell signed him up as Jackie Stewart’s replacement in 1974. He scored two wins at Anderstorp and Silverstone to finish 3rd in the championships and won his home Grand Prix in 1975. He drove the famous six wheeled Tyrell throughout ’76 and then had a fairly successful season with Wolf before signing for Ferrari. Three GP wins in 1979 were sufficient to make him Ferrari’s last world champion until Michael Schumacher’s success 21 years later. Jody retired in 1980 and now runs an organic farm in Suffolk. His sons, Toby and Tomas, both came through karting before moving up the motor-sport ladder.
ALAN JONES (1980)
Alan’s name wasn’t included on my original list due to a dim and distant memory of an interview he’d given not long after winning the world title. I seem to recall him saying that he’d driven karts a few times but hadn’t actually raced them in serious competition. However, further research has shown that he was actually the Australian kart champion in 1963. He’d grown up around racing cars and his father, Stan, was well known on the Australian circuits. At the age of 17, he swapped his kart for a racing Mini but soon began to show interest in his dad’s old F3 Cooper. Lack of funds restricted his racing activities in Australia but Alan spotted an opportunity on the European scene. His first trip over here in 1967 was unsuccessful, but he came back again the following year. In 1973, racing a GRD, he produced some good results in F3 and attracted the attention of Harry Stiller, who provided sufficient cash to fund a Formula Atlantic programme for 1974. Jones won three races and Stiller bought a Hesketh car for him to race in F1 the following season. Unfortunately, Stiller decided to disband the team after just four Grand Prix events had been completed.
A brief spell as Rolf Stommelen’s replacement in Graham Hill’s Embassy team brought him his first world championship points when he finished 5th behind Tom Pryce at the Nurburgring. Graham’s death later that year left Jones without a drive, but John Surtees came to his rescue and he scored 7 points for the Durex-Surtees team. He moved to Shadow following the death of Tom Pryce in 1977 and won his first GP in Austria. This victory persuaded Frank Williams to sign him for his fledgling team in 1978. Patrick Head’s FW07 introduced in 1979 provided Jones with his first truly competitive car, delivering wins in Austria, Holland and Canada. Five wins in 1980 were sufficient to secure the title. After a tempestuous relationship with his new team-mate Carlos Reutemann throughout the 1981 seasonhe decided to retire However he did make a return at Long Beach two years later, racing for Arrows. He ended his motor racing career on the Australian Touring car scene.
NELSON PIQUET (1981, 83 & 87)
Parental opposition led to Nelson Souto Maier adopting his mother’s maiden name of Piquet when he first went kart racing. At the age of 19, he won his first national karting title and repeated this success the following year. A move into Super Vee resulted in another national title and he was persuaded by Emerson Fittipaldi to try his luck over in Europe. A year after settling in Britain, he won the 1978 F3 Championships, breaking Jackie Stewart’s long standing record of most wins at this level. Bernie Ecclestone signed him up for his F1 Brabham team in 1979. He went on to claim 13 GP wins for Brabham and two world titles before joining Williams in 1986. This move produced a fierce rivalry with Nigel Mansell that allowed Prost to snatch the title. His 1987 success means that he is now one of only eight drivers with three or more F1 crowns. A move to Lotus in 1988 proved to be disastrous but signing for Benetton in 1990 gave his career a boost as he recorded two Grand Prix wins. In 1991 he defeated his old rival Mansell to notch up another win at Montreal and on that happy note announced his retirement.
KEKE ROSBERG (1982)
Keijo Erik Rosberg (nicknamed Keke) was one of Finland’s early karting pioneers who imported Tecnokarts. He competed in the 1966 world championships, finishing 15th and remained in karting until 1976. After two seasons in Formula Vee and Atlantic, he had his first Grand Prix outing at the 1978 Dutch GP, racing an ATS. Some months earlier, though, he’d scored a sensational F1 victory for Theodore in the non championship BRDC International Trophy event at Silverstone. After two relatively strong seasons with Wolf and Fittipaldi, he joined the Williams team as a replacement for Alan Jones in 1982. Despite winning just one GP in Switzerland, his consistency earned him the world title by a margin of five points over Didier Pironi and John Watson. He scored five GP victories throughout his career, all of them with Williams. He moved to McLaren in 1986 but the car wasn’t competitive. That year Elio de Angelis, his friend from the karting days, was involved in a fatal crash and it persuaded Keke to retire.
ALAIN PROST (1985, 86, 89 & 93)
Alain began racing karts as a 14 year old and won the 1973 Junior World Cup held at Oldenzal in Holland. Moving up to seniors that year, he took part in the World Championships at Nivelles, finishing 14th. The following year, he became a full time professional driver, financing his career by selling karts and tuning motors. By winning the 1975 French karting championships he earned a scholarship into Formula Renault, claiming national titles in 1976 and 1977. His move into F3 was equally successful as he captured the 1978 French title followed by the European crown 12 months later. In 1980 Prost signed for McLaren with whom he scored 5 world championship points. Lack of reliability prompted him to look elsewhere and for 1981 he chose the fledgling Renault team. Prost completed three seasons with Renault, winning nine races that earned him 5th, 4th and 2nd in the world championship rankings. He returned to McLaren in 1984 and remained there for six seasons, winning an astonishing 30 races with three world titles to show for it all. After open warfare had broken out with Senna, he transferred his allegiance to Ferrari in 1990 recording five race wins that year. After a bad season in 1991, he fell out with the Ferrari hierarchy and took a year off. He returned to the sport with Williams and easily defeated Senna to win his 4th world crown. He retired from the sport having won 51 GPs setting a record that only Michael Schumacher has been able to beat. He spent several years as a TV commentator and McLaren test driver before buying out the Ligier team in 1997 and renaming it Prost. However, this venture proved to be unsuccessful and he closed the team down in 2001.
AYRTON SENNA (1988, 1990 & 1991)
John Mills telephoned me after the 1978 world karting championships at Le Mans full of enthusiasm about a hitherto unknown Brazilian. Ayrton Senna da Silva, had finished 6th immediately behind Britain’s Mickey Allen. He’d astounded most onlookers with his strong performance, yet still returned home feeling rather disappointed at not having won. Winning kart races was something that had come naturally to Ayrton ever since reaching the required age of 13 in Brazil. He’d been crowned the 1977 national champion, earning the right to represent his country at Le Mans. Determined to do better at Estoril in 1979, he secured factory support from DAP but it was his Dutch team-mate Peter Koene who lifted the title on count back. Another Dutch driver, Peter de Bruyn got the better of him at Nivelles in 1980, with Senna again finishing as runner up. In 1981 he moved to England and captured the Townsend Thoreson Formula Ford title then made another attempt to earn karting’s premier prize, this time at Parma On this occasion, though, he had to settle for 4th place behind Mike Wilson, Lars Forsman and Ruggero Melgrati. Despite easily winning the 1982 British and European FF 2000 titles, karting’s world crown still eluded him and he finished outside the top ten at Kalmar. A busy Formula 3 schedule in which he narrowly beat Martin Brundle prevented him from returning to Le Mans for the 1983 world karting championships.
Even whilst at the peak of his career, Senna was obviously proud of his karting links and lost no opportunity in publicly acknowledging their importance. In 1991, he baffled motor racing journalists by nominating karting stars Terry Fullerton and Mike Wilson as the two best drivers he’d ever competed against. This was in direct contrast to most other F1 drivers of that era who either neglected to mention their earlier karting days altogether or played down the importance of this period in their lives. Senna signed for Toleman in 1984 and finished 2nd at Monaco. He also grabbed podium places at Silverstone and Estoril. Moving to Lotus in 1985, he claimed no less than seven pole positions, far more than any other driver and this marked him out as the fastest man in F1. Two more seasons with Lotus brought him 4th and 3rd places in the championship standings before he joined McLaren. Senna’s six year spell with McLaren brought him 35 race wins, three world titles, and general recognition as one of motor racing’s all time greats. He signed for Williams in 1994 with fatal consequences at the San Marino GP. Back home, the Brazilian government announced a period of mourning lasting for three days and it was estimated that more than three million people lined the streets for his funeral.
NIGEL MANSELL (1992)
Nigel began racing karts at the age of 12, joining the British Junior Team in 1968 along with Terry Fullerton, Tim Brise and Alan Turney. Despite a somewhat outdated Parilla BA13 motor, he still managed to look pretty rapid. At Fulbeck he finished 2nd behind Stephen South in the 1969 British Championships and this probably rates as his best performance on a kart. His choice of chassis was a Dale Cutlass, which no other Class 1 competitor tended to favour. The following year, he moved into gearbox karting with a 210 Villiers and notched up lots of victories, mostly at club level. Whilst competing in the 1973 World Cup at Morecambe he sustained serious injuries after a track rod snapped on his approach to the hairpin bend. Compared to other top flight karting stars of that era, Mansell was known for his determination and bravery rather than pure skill. Half way through the 1976 season he moved into Formula Ford, winning six out of the nine races entered. The following year he raced in 42 events and won 33 of them to take the championship convincingly. By then, he’d left his job as an aerospace technician to become a full time racing driver. Shortly afterwards he broke his neck during practice at Brands Hatch and doctors warned that he’d never race again.
A season in F3 left him financially destitute and he could only continue racing by re-mortgaging his house. Suddenly, his luck changed thanks to another driver’s misfortune. His old karting rival Stephen South had signed a contract with Lotus to become their test driver for 1980. However, Stephen lost part of his leg in a Canam race. Colin Chapman decided to offer this contract to Nigel who, with no funds left, grabbed the opportunity gratefully. He made his F1 debut in the 1980 Austrian GP but had to retire with a fuel leak. Five seasons with Lotus brought him five podium places but no wins. Following Chapman’s sudden death, Peter Warr took over the team and had a low regard for Mansell’s ability, claiming that he’d never win a Grand Prix. After joining Williams in 1985 he actually notched up 13 GP wins before moving to Ferrari five years later. After announcing his retirement, he was tempted back into the Williams fold in 1991, claiming a further five GP wins. He achieved his goal of becoming world champion in 1992 with a breathtaking nine victories before retiring once again from F1. After dominating the American CART Series, he made a brief return to F1 a year later and notched up his 28th GP win in Australia. Nigel was a hero to the British motor racing fans. He wasn’t always so popular with his team-mates, however. Mario Andretti was moved to say of him “If Ronnie Peterson was the best team-mate I ever had, then Mansell must have been the worst.” What no-one can deny is that he reached the top of F1 with no financial backing, just lots of guts, determination and self belief.
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (1994, ’95, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03 & ’04)
Michael’s father Rolf, a bricklayer by trade, adapted his pedal car to run with a small motorcycle engine and took it to the nearby kart track at Kerpen. At four years old he was by far the youngest club member. Rolf built him a proper kart from discarded spare parts and, at the age of six, Michael used this makeshift machine to win his first club championships. To finance their son’s racing, Rolf took a second job repairing karts at the circuit whilst mum Elisabeth worked in the club’s canteen. Even so, when the time came to replace Michael’s engine with a quicker one they couldn’t find the 400 Euros required. Fortunately, by that stage, his obvious talent had been spotted by several businessmen who stepped in with the necessary cash. His kart racing was restricted to local events because otherwise a national licence would have been required. In Germany you had to be 14 years old before a licence could be issued. For two years Schumacher raced with a Luxembourg licence but couldn’t compete in his own national championships. He reached his 14th birthday in 1983 and had won the German Junior title within twelve months. Backed by Eurokart dealer Adolf Neuberg, he finished 2nd in the Junior World cup at Le Mans. This was followed by 3rd place in the 1986 European Championships for ICA (now known as KF2) and he won this title 12 months later. To further fund his racing he left school early and began working as a mechanic.
Michael moved into single seater racing cars in 1988 and promptly won the German Formula Koenig Series. Willi Weber became his manager and masterminded a successful assault on the German F3 title in 1990. That led to a place in the Mercedes Junior Racing programme contesting the World Sports Prototype Championships. He made his F1 debut with Jordan at the 1991 Belgian GP, qualifying 7th despite never having previously driven at Spa. Eddie Jordan thought that he had Schumacher under contract, but Benetton moved in swiftly to snap up the young German ace. He justified their faith immediately by finishing 5th in the Italian GP, appreciably quicker than his team-mate, Nelson Piquet. By the end of his relationship with Benetton in 1995, Schumacher had racked up no less than 19 GP victories and claimed two world titles. Leaving this winning team for Ferrari may have seemed at first sight a rather strange choice but it eventually brought him another 72 Grand Prix victories and five more world titles.
Statistically, he remains the best F1 driver of all time. There were a couple of stains on his record, however. He was disqualified from the 1997 championships after attempting to run Jacques Villeneuve off the road. This followed another dubious episode in 1994 when he won his first world title after crashing into Damon Hill, some say quite deliberately. There was another incident during qualifying for the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. Schumacher was provisionally holding pole position when he spun at Rascasse Corner and left his car positioned in such a way as to prevent anyone else from completing the lap. The race stewards subsequently placed him at the back of the grid. These and several other controversial incidents prevented him from being accorded the status of all time great in some people’s eyes. Despite retiring from F1 in 2006, he still retains close links with Ferrari as an advisor, mentor and occasional test driver.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE (1997)
A Canadian by birth, but raised in Monaco, Jacques was the son of Ferrari F1 star Gilles Villeneuve. He is actually named after his uncle, another motor racing driver, who in 1985 became the first Canadian to win an American CART race. In 1982 Gilles was involved in a fatal accident during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. Just two years after his father’s death, Jacques decided that he wanted to go motor racing. His mother Joann was finally talked into buying him a 100cc kart and he competed in one or two Italian kart meetings before switching to a135cc Birel/Komet. Shortly afterwards, his uncle enrolled him at the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School in Mont Tremblant, Quebec and he made an immediate impression. For several seasons, he competed in Italian and Japanese F3 events without too much success. During 1993 he raced in the North American Toyota Atlantic Series, posting seven poles and five race victories. The next two years were spent in the American CART Series, with Villeneuve scoring a resounding victory at Indianapolis in 1995. This brought him to the attention of Frank Williams who promptly signed him up for his 1996 F1 team, partnering Damon Hill.
He finished runner up to his team-mate Hill in the 1996 championships, but went one better 12 months later. Williams had to compete without Renault factory support in 1998 and Jacques was well off the pace. He joined the newly formed BAR team in 1999 for an annual salary of £15m and remained with them throughout four largely disappointing seasons. After taking a sabbatical in 2004, he joined up with Sauber-BMW, remaining with them for his final two F1 seasons. His last two years have been spent racing sports cars and competing in the NASCAR Series. Apart from his motor racing career, Jacques is famous for being engaged to Danni Minogue at one time. He also attempted to become a pop star himself, releasing an album called “Private Paradise” in 2007.
MIKA HAKKINEN (1998 &’99)
Like many other top flight racing drivers, Mika had his first taste of karting as a 5 year old. A crash on his very first outing failed to deter him and he was soon taking part in local events with a kart that had previously belonged to Finland’s rally ace Henri Toivonen. He eventually won five national karting championships before ex world champion Keke Rosberg took him under his wing, arranging sponsorship that allowed Mika to move into single seater cars. By 1989, he’d collected three Scandinavian titles plus the British F3 Championships and had attracted interest from several F1 teams. After a rousing performance in the 1990 Macau GP, Mika signed for Lotus where he remained for two full seasons. In 1993 he joined the McLaren team, initially as a test driver but was drafted into their mainstream line up after Michael Andretti left half way through the season. He remained a McLaren driver for nine years before taking what was claimed to be a sabbatical in 2002. In between times, he’d won 20 GP races and finished as world champion on two occasions. His record would doubtless have been more impressive were it not for a certain Michael Schumacher who admitted that Hakkinen was the rival he feared the most. Mika never returned to F1 as originally intended but raced for three seasons in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters). For 2007 there was much talk of him returning to McLaren’s F1 team before the Woking outfit finally decided on Lewis Hamilton.
FERNANDO ALONSO (2005 & 2006)
Jose Luis Alonso was a factory worker who had been moderately successful in Spanish kart racing. In 1985, as Mike Wilson was busy collecting his fourth world championship title, Jose decided to build a kart for his eight year old daughter Lorena. Unfortunately for him, she showed no interest in the sport but her three year old brother Fernando became immediately smitten. Jose had to make many alterations before Fernando could reach the pedals, but he was soon whizzing around a circuit near his home in Oviedo. Fernando’s mother worked in a Department Store and the family had limited resources to support his karting activities. However, it was obvious that he had lots of talent and sponsorship was soon forthcoming. He won the Spanish Junior title on four consecutive occasions from 1993 until 1996. Before entering senior karting he won the Junior World Cup at Genk. By that stage he was coming under the expert tutelage of Mike Wilson who also guided him to 2nd place in the 1998 European Championships for Super Cent, forerunner of today’s KF1.
Clearly it was only a matter of time before he moved into cars and in 1999 Fernando won the Spanish Formula Nissan championships. He also tested a Minardi F1 car that year and emerged the quickest by 1.5 seconds. After a season in Formula 3000, Alonso signed for Minardi and produced some notable results throughout 2001 Flavio Briatori snapped him up as a test driver for his Renault team in 2002 on the understanding that he would replace Jenson Button 12 months later. He scored 15 GP wins in his first four seasons with Renault and won two world titles. The dream move to McLaren in 2007 was spoiled somewhat by a rookie driver called Lewis Hamilton often out-pacing him. Despite winning four Grand Prix that year, Alonso’s 3rd place in the championship standings must have been a disappointment and rather tarnished his reputation. Back with Renault for 2008 he won two more Grand Prix, despite Renault’s lack of pace, and faith was restored once again. Who knows what 2009 might bring?
KIMI RAIKKONEN (2007)
Several years ago I asked Paul Carr to name the kart driver who had impressed him the most. After a moment’s hesitation he replied, “Kimi Raikkonen!. I’d been running Robert Bell at the same time and he was obviously very good, but Kimi had that touch of class that set him aside, almost like Senna in the late seventies.” Kimi had been winning national titles in Finland from the age of ten, but didn’t venture abroad until after his 15th birthday. He competed in the 1997 world championships finishing 30th and improved upon this result by half a dozen places the following year. At the 1998 Monaco Cup, he survived a first bend collision to fight his way through to 3rd place. By then he was racing with the famous PDB team led by Peter de Bruyn who guided Kimi to a fine 2nd place in the 1999 European kart championships for Formula A (now KF1). Switching to Formula Renault brought him seven wins from ten events in the UK championships. Peter Sauber was sufficiently impressed to offer him a place in his F1 team for 2001 and he scored 9 points helping to deliver Sauber’s best ever result of 4th position in the constructors’ championships. Ron Dennis also became a Raikkonen fan and promptly signed him up as a replacement for Mika Hakkinen. In five seasons with McLaren he won nine Grand Prix but retired from almost 40% of his races. The switch to Ferrari in 2007 certainly brought about more consistency and his six GP wins were good enough to make him world champion.
LEWIS HAMILTON (2008)
At the age of three Lewis had his first taste of karting whilst on a family holiday in Ibiza. After spending two or three years racing remote controlled cars, he went to Rye House for a few laps on some real karts. “That was it!” recalls Lewis. “It was all I ever wanted to do.” He finally got his first kart as a Christmas present just before reaching the age of eight. It was a very old and battered All-kart that his dad had spent many hours painstakingly restoring. Nevertheless, it was good enough to make Lewis instantly competitive and he won all his races in the novice class. His first time out on yellow plates was at Clay Pigeon, a race that he won against all the odds. In their old Vaxhall Cavalier Lewis, his dad Anthony, step-mum Linda and half brother Nic would soon be travelling to circuits throughout Britain. Lewis had been learning Karate for some time but after receiving one or two threats from angry fathers who didn’t like to see their sons being beaten, Anthony took it up as well. By this stage the All-kart had been traded in for a brand new Zip and Lewis was receiving support from Martin Hines. He won his first British Cadet Championship in 1995 at the age of ten, successfully defending the title 12 months later. Lewis famously approached Ron Dennis at the 1995 Autosport Awards ceremony and told him that he’d like to drive for McLaren one day. Ron signed his autograph book with the message “phone me on nine years time.” In actual fact, it was Ron who contacted the Hamiltons less than three years later after Lewis had started making waves in the JICA S1 championships. He was offered a place in the McLaren Mercedes Young driver Support Programme. It meant that Anthony would never again need to go out erecting advertising signs at 50p each to finance his son’s karting activities.
After scooping four national championship titles in cadets and Junior Yamaha, it was time for Lewis to try his hand in Europe. Martin Hines arranged for a factory drive with Top-kart and Lewis scored a sensational victory over Nico Rosberg at Parma. It was the start of a long lasting friendship as they became team-mates in an outfit set up by Ron Dennis called MBM. He finished 2nd in the European Junior championships before winning this title at senior level the following year. After noting Hamilton’s performance in the 2001 world karting championships, Michael Schumacher observed that he clearly had the right race mentality for a career in F1. Lewis then moved straight into Formula Renault, finishing 3rd in the 2002 British championships after setting three poles and winning three races. He breezed through this Series the following year with ten wins to his credit. A move into F3 was rather less successful, though he still finished 5th in the 2004 championships. He dominated the 2005 F3 Euroseries championships, winning 15 out of 20 rounds. There then came a GP2 title the following year which eventually earned him a place in McLaren’s 2007 F1 team. If you don’t know what happened after that, then you’ve probably been living on another planet.
JENSON BUTTON (2009)
Jenson and Lewis share a similar karting background, having both achieved remarkable success on very small budgets. Shortly after his eighth birthday, Jenson’s parents John and Simone separated. John bought a second hand kart from an old Rally-cross friend Keith Ripp and presented it to his son for Christmas. After several trial runs on a disused airfield nearby, they entered their first race meeting at Clay Pigeon. Jenson proved his mastery of the wet conditions and came home with a winner’s cup. In no time at all, he was racing in national championship events. Legend has it that, after a race up at Larkhall, John had to borrow sufficient funds to fill up their Transit van for the journey home. Button became the 1991 British cadet champion after winning all 8 rounds and repeated this success 12 months later by lifting the Junior TKM crown. After competing in the 1994 Junior World Cup, he was offered a professional drive with Tecno. At his first attempt, Jenson captured the Italian title and took 2nd place in the world championships for Formula A. His supreme karting success occurred in 1997 when he was crowned the European Formula Super A champion ahead of Davide Fore. The following season he joined some of his former karting friends such as Danny Wheldon, Anthony Davidson and Jarno Trulli by making the step into cars.
In return for a 35% share of his future income, David Robertson and Harald Huysman agreed to finance Jenson’s motor racing career. It began with testing a Dallara F3 car run by Carlin Motorsport. Rather than jump straight into the F3 ranks, however, he opted for a season with Haywood Racing in Formula Ford. It proved to be a smart choice as he won the TOCA Slick 50 Championships and also took 1st place in the FF Festival at Brands Hatch. Jenson was also voted the BRDC McLaren Autosport young driver of the 1998. He chose to run in F3 with the Silverstone based Promatecme team using Dallara cars and Renault engines. Even though his Renault was recognised as being inferior to the Mugen Hondas of Marc Hynes and Luciano Burti, Jenson still managed to win three races and finished 3rd in the championships. He also impressed Ron Dennis in his test drive for McLaren but it was Frank Williams who ultimately gambled on Jenson’s talent by signing him as a fully fledged F1 driver.
He scored 12 points that year which earned him 8th place in the championship table. “Jenson was excellent,” confessed Patrick Head, but unfortunately Williams had already signed a contract with Pablo Montoya. Button was transferred to Bennetton and had a disappointing season finishing 17th with just 2 points. The team was taken over by Renault in 2002 and Jenson finished 7th with 14 points, scoring much better than his team-mate Jarno Trulli. However, it didn’t impress Flavio Briatore who signed Alonso as Button’s replacement. Jenson’s next move was to BAR Honda where he immediately made a big impression. Hi finished 9th in the 2003 championships and improved to 3rd twelve months later. It wasn’t until 2006 that he scored his first Grand Prix victory winning in Hungary. There followed two very uncompetitive years with Honda before Ross Brawn took over the team. Six GP wins and a 5th place finish in Brazil were enough to earn Jenson the world crown. It had taken him ten seasons to achieve his ambition, but in truth this was the first time that he’d been given a competitive car. Few in the motor racing world would deny that his success had been richly deserved.