F1.racing-live has reported that John Watson has tried to introduce some balance into the Button mania gripping Britain after Jenson’s win in Hungary. Although John never grabbed the headlines as Button is doing, he deserved better and is well qualified to comment on such matters. In 1982, when driving for McLaren, he won the Detroit GP from 17th on the grid and then bettered that the next year, winning from 22nd in Long Beach and setting a record for victory from the worst position in the process. It is no surprise that in those years he became known as the only man who could overtake on street circuits.
But Watson never became the darling of the press as some other drivers do. Any speed cop can tell you who is the current star who has broken through to enter the public consciousness. In America, the question you’re asked on being stopped for speeding is, “Who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?” For years the equivalent question in Britain would concern Stirling Moss, with Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Nigel Mansell taking their turns for later generations.
Yet there are many British drivers who have had just as much or more success on the track but are never given the speed cop’s seal of approval. John Watson won five Grands Prix, David Coulthard has won thirteen, whereas Hunt won ten. What makes the difference in this race for the public spotlight?
To some extent, it starts and ends with the non-specialist press. If news reporters think a driver’s success is worth reporting, he will break out from the limited arena of the F1 fans to reach those who usually take no notice. News reporters love a bit of gossip and so, when someone with a racy lifestyle like James Hunt’s appears, he’s a gift to the media.
But it’s consistency more than anything else that gets noticed. When a driver like Jackie Stewart starts winning all the races, he cannot be ignored. Watson and Coulthard made the mistake of spreading their wins throughout their careers, never appearing to dominate. A championship helps, although Moss demonstrated that it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Which leads me to conclude that Watson is right in what he says about Jenson Button. If Button is to become the British hero of F1, he needs to start winning regularly and that isn’t easy. Honda might just be the right team to do it in, however; they seem to be over their mid-season slump and look promising for next year.
I, for one, will be happy if he achieves such fame. It’s about time the speed cop had a new driver to refer to.