Williams holds its 2021 Formula 1 launch later today as its new era under Dorilton Capital begins.
One of the new ownership’s most intriguing moves so far was to bring 2000 Williams driver Jenson Button back into the fold. Scott Mitchell recently took a look at what Button will actually be doing.
Jenson Button’s return to the Williams Formula 1 team will ostensibly mean a mix of ambassadorial and consultancy duties that Dorilton Capital hopes will yield advantages on-track and off it.
Dorilton purchased Williams last summer and has been moulding the famous team more in its own image since the Williams family – including team founder Frank and effective team principal Claire – was ousted after the sale.
It has made major decisions to boost the team’s long-term prospects after Williams reached a low point in recent years, with Button’s appointment as a senior advisor the latest headline-grabbing announcement.
Button made his F1 debut for Williams in 2000, almost rejoined the team twice after then (in 2005 and 2006), and says it remains a team close to his heart.
But where does a former driver, even one who was a world champion, fit into Dorilton’s strategy to re-establish Williams as a leading F1 force?
WHAT WILL BUTTON ACTUALLY BE DOING?
Despite the excitement of ‘Button signs for Williams’ or ‘Button rejoins Williams’ headlines, he will not be driving. At least the current car.
Button says there will “definitely” be some opportunities to drive its Heritage machinery though and considers the prospect of a reunion with his 2000 car a “lovely” thought. But his primary ‘driving’ role will be working with Williams’s current F1 line-up (George Russell and Nicholas Latifi) and also Williams’s Academy drivers.
This will be a public-facing role that adopts various ambassadorial responsibilities, including attending “a number of grands prix” with Williams, taking part in “some team events” in the UK, and supporting Williams’s “media and marketing activities when required”.
But Williams owner Dorilton Capital also hopes to tap into Button’s experience in a consultant-like role as well.
He will not be making major team decisions, but he will likely be called upon to give his view on various matters. Button told Sky Sports F1, who he will continue to work with as a pundit in 2021, that he will spend some time at Grove with the drivers and staff, as well as his work on-site.
“Coming from the outside and with the experience I have, it’s always interesting,” says Button.
“From an outsider [perspective] looking in you see things that can be improved.”
WHAT EXPERIENCE DOES BUTTON BRING?
As a world champion Button is one of only 33 drivers who knows what it takes to be the best in F1.
He also raced for various teams in different guises including under manufacturer ownership, starting with Williams, and taking in stints at Benetton/Renault, BAR/Honda/Brawn and finally McLaren – racking up 306 starts, 15 wins and 50 podiums.
So, Williams is tapping into a man with almost unprecedented F1 experience, which will no doubt be of benefit to Williams’s driving contingent and command great respect from everyone at the team.
New Williams CEO Jost Capito says Button has also “shown his acumen in both the business and broadcasting worlds and remains a widely respected figure in the paddock”. But that has limited value in helping run the team more effectively.
It’s worth pointing out that Button last raced in F1 full-time in 2016. There will likely be a lot from Button’s past that Williams can tap into in some way, but it would be a step too far to say that it has picked up someone with completely relevant recent experience – especially of how a top F1 team operates.
Prior to taking on his Sky broadcasting role in 2019, Button had removed himself from the grand prix world. But at least he had begun to re-immerse himself in F1, so he is hardly a relic from the past.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting back into F1 and seeing it change over the last few years,” says Button.
“This this felt like the perfect moment to rejoin Williams.”
SO, IS THIS A ‘REAL’ POSITION?
Yes, but it’s not a serious leadership one, or something with daily responsibilities.
It’s an elevated position than just an ambassadorial role as he will not be calling any shots at Williams, but the team will hope he brings a tangible benefit beyond just being a familiar face to wheel out at a couple of big occasions.
The most obvious advantage of this role will be his profile, though. He is a relevant, popular public-facing person for the new Williams regime who has more profile than Capito or Dorilton’s choice as team principal Simon Roberts. He also gives Dorilton a clear link to the team’s history at the same time and the ‘reunion’ element of Button’s appointment has already been played up a lot.
Sentimentality doesn’t win anything on-track in F1, but it has its advantages. That is the ambassadorial side of the job. How much more than that it will be depends on what Button has to offer behind-the-scenes.
He is already espousing a view that backs the new ownership’s approach – “they’re not afraid of change” – and given the respect Button will command that might be beneficial in terms of getting everybody on the shop floor buying into ‘life after the Williams family’.
But there will be limitations on what Button’s brings from the management consultant side, for lack of a better description. Dorilton has already begun a long process of improving things at the team’s base as that is where the team’s main limitations were, while also committing to major strategic moves such as an enhanced Mercedes technical partnership.
Button has not influenced those decisions and he is not going to relocate to Grove and work there full-time. So, he will need to find other ways to be more than just a fashionable team representative who speaks well on camera and boosts morale.
But he has spoken enthusiastically about the task ahead, being part of Williams’s attempted recovery, and reuniting with a team close to his heart – and the fact it’s a multi-year deal suggests both parties see this as a serious and worthwhile collaboration.
“I look forward to working with them and however much I can help I will,” says Button.
“Everyone needs to be pulling their weight. Everyone needs to give 100%. The team needs to be passionate, every single person that works there it can’t be just the job, it needs to be the passion and the love for the sport.
“That’s the only way that we’re going to fight at the front again.”