Friday, 27 December 2013


When they were first paired at Honda in 2006, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were fast, highly respected and experienced drivers. If not quite as highly regarded as peers  Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Alonso and Raikkonen, Button and Barrichello were a very strong pair.

Because the Hondas of the years 2006-2008 were never the fastest cars, being in fact very slow in 2007 and 2008, typically as drivers with off-pace machinery, Button and Barrichello faded from the media radar. They became enigmatic and anonymous. Their reputations were redeemed in 2009 after Honda had pulled out and the team was taken over by team manager Ross Brawn and renamed Brawn-Mercedes. Button’s more so than Barrichellos.

By my rating statistics, the Hondas car-rated at a fast’, but fourth ranked, 100.3 in 2006, at a slow 101.6 ranked seventh  in 2007 and an even slower 102.1 for 2008, ranked second-last ahead of Super Aguri-Honda. Clearly then Jenson and Rubens had little chance of shining with such car-speed deficiencies. As a general rule throughout grand prix history my stats have shown that any car rated less than about 100.5 has hardly any chance of scoring a race win, even with the very top drivers. Of course the car came right for Button and Barrichello in 2009 as the Brawn-Mercedes, which my calculations rated at 100.0 until about halfway through the season. Then the Red Bull-Renault caught and surpassed the Brawn slightly to score the season average top spot at 100.0, relegating the Brawn-Mercedes to rank second at a car-rating of 100.1.

General consensus for 2009 is that Button was obviously faster in the first half, Barrichello in the second half.

Rubens Barrichello

This fading from media prominence from 2006-2008 was despite both drivers’ excellent credentials. Barrichello had started his career brilliantly with Jordan in 1993 and in only his third appearance was almost as fast as the Senna/McLaren-Cosworth in that rainy Donington GP! Button had debuted in 2000 as team-mate to the very talented Ralf Schumacher who was into his fourth season. Button put up some impressive performances in scoring a fourth and some fifth places. Both Barrichello and Button clearly showed talent.

 However as is normal in the monopolistic world of Formula One, more illustrious peers in faster cars hogged the wins: Senna, Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the nineties for Barrichello, who had to wait eight years until 2000 for his first win, driving for the Ferrari team. Button was overshadowed by his mores successful peers, Michael Schumacher and Barrichello for Ferrari, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Raikkonen for McLaren-Mercedes, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya for Williams-BMW and Alonso for Renault. Button also only scored his first win in his seventh season, for Honda in 2006.

Button and Barrichello had had statistically similar career paths before they were teamed at Honda in 2006. Rubens had scored nine wins for the dominant Ferrari team between 2000-2005. He then left, fed up with playing second-fiddle to Michael Schumacher. Jenson had had an excellent season in 2004 when the Bar-Honda car had been competitive enough to get four seconds and six third places, in a year of utter Ferrari dominance when the red cars won 15 of 17 races.

2009 Button/Brawn-Mercedes BGP001

To help accurately place and compare the two Honda team mates, I asked posters on the Planet F1 Forum for their views.  Under their usernames these were some of their words:

Mac_d: “Over 2007 and 2008 they were close to identical imo. In 2006 and 2009 though JB went for it a bit stronger... I think it is vital to JB that we note the 2006 and 2009 cars were pretty damn good. The 2007 and 2008 cars were not. Both were good enough drivers to win multiple races by JB in a car he likes and is more capable beats Rubens in the same car. In mediocre cars they become even”.

Mikeyg123; “In 2008 Rubens seemed to have an edge. I think for 2009 Button showed just how good he can be in a great car, but by the second half of the season Barrichello was a match for him again”.

Coulthards chin: “Before I delved in to the stats, the opinion etched into my brain was Button by a country mile in 2006 and 2009, but Barrichello edging 2007-2008. However the stats show it’s bit more complicated than that”. coulthard’s chin did detailed comparative stats analysis that showed that for ‘ahead-when-both-finished-races’ in 2006-2009 the score was 31:16 to Button.

Arai_or_Nothing: “While Button finally looked competitive consistently in 2009, it was truly the first time in his F1 career that he looked the part whilst driving some really good cars. Barrichello is clearly the more adaptable driver. [Button] simply cannot adapt to tires that are less than spectacular”.

AFCTUJacko: “I rate them pretty similarly. JB had the’ perfect storm’ he needed to win the title, Rubens didn’t”.

Benmc: Button is definitely more sensitive to car handling and tyre temperature than most...”

M. Nader-DODZ-: “Rubens made steady improvement against Button. Among a few things to consider in such a comparison (coulthards chin stats), Rubens age when making the switch to Honda. I think Jenson is a lot better than Rubens. I would say Rubens is in the Webber/DC class and Jenson is one step above that”.

Flavio81: Speedwise I think they were mostly matched although Jenson can be thought as faster in the race. However I must say that I think Jenson is the better racer’.

Tootsie323: “Over the course of their four seasons together I felt they were fairly evenly matched; it was largely due to Jenson maximising the early-season advantage of the Brawn in 2009 that he is WDC and Rubens not.”

Slowestofall: took an interesting set of stats from the  FIA Race Analysis files, and averaged the two drivers’ ten  fastest laps for the last eight races of the season at each circuit: and found:“...when it mattered, Button drove faster than Barrichello […] in the second half of the [2009] season, Button drove consistently faster than Barrichello in the races...”

As anyone who analyses Formula One racing finds, there are many measures and methods, some of which produce converging results, others produce differing conclusions.

We have here above a pretty detailed and accurate picture of how Button and Barrichello compared.


 I now set out some other factors that further explain the comparison between Button and Barrichello.

Why had Button, who clearly showed immediate talent, not managed a win before 2006? He was too new in 2000 and 2001. Thereafter and apart from the 2004 season, he had driven inferior cars. This partly explains his 2002, 2003 and 2005 seasons. But what about 2004, when the BAR-Honda car was outstanding and up with the Ferrari speedwise? Simply, Jenson was not as fast as Michael Schumacher and the Honda team were not as good racers as the Ferrari team. Another factor pointed out by expert driver analyst Peter Windsor: that although Button is unsurpassed in slow speed corners, at rotating the car so accurately and efficiently to aid corner exit, up with Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in this respect,  he was not good in high-speed corners, detesting high-speed, flick oversteer. When his car was so behaving, Windsor reckoned “Button became just another driver”.  Another factor mentioned by posters above that adversely affected Button, and still does today (2013) by his own admission: he has trouble warming the tyres in certain conditions and coping with an imbalanced car. It is these factors that have kept Button’s driver-rating below that of those top drivers, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton and now Vettel, who have the ability to drive around car issues and are very consistent. Button certainly is their equal in talent, feel and sensitivity when he feels confident with his car. In changeable weather conditions Jenson’s sensitivity enabled several great wins.

When Rubens at last got into a top-rated car and team, Ferrari in 2000-2005, he was unfortunate to be teamed with one of the greatest drivers in Michael Schumacher. Barrichello was just not fast enough. However being teamed with a top driver in a dominant team/car was also an advantage: Barrichello’s standards, understanding of the car and himself through much testing, his confidence and speed all improved. This phenomenon has been fairly common in F1 racing: Berger with Senna at McLaren-Honda in 1991-1992, Mansell with Keke Rosberg at Williams-Honda in 1985, Moss with Fangio at Mercedes-Benz in 1955 and with Button himself at Brawn-Mercedes  with Barrichello in 2009 and then at McLaren-Mercedes paired with Hamilton in 2010-2012. Before joining Ferrari in 2000 Barrichello had always displayed exceptional wet-weather ability, but generally seemed to lack some self-belief or confidence.

So in their earlier careers, Button and Barrichello each scored just one win, each in their sixth season!

When they teamed at Honda in 2006 the 34-year-old Barrichello had been in F1 for 13 seasons, while 26-year-old Button was into his sixth season. That eight year age difference counted as did their differing years in F1 racing. What I also found critical was the fact that Barrichello’s form and speed had slumped significantly in 2005, his last season at Ferrari. On the heels of  Rubens’s great 2004, when he scored two wins and 14 podiums to Michael’s 13 wins and 15 podiums and 16 top-six finishes to Michael’s 15, Rubens’ 2005 results plummeted: three podiums to Michael’s six and five top-six placings to Michael’s ten. It seems that Rubens’confidence and motivation had been lost in that last season as number two to Michael Schumacher.
2009 Brawn-Mercedes BGP001

Taking another measure to compare the two drivers, my driver-rating calculations, which are based primarily on time-speed and scores drivers on season-averages (where 100.0 is the ultimate speed):

2006:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.7
2007:  Button 100.4:  Barrichello 100.5
2008:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.4
2009:  Button 100.3:  Barrichello 100.4.

My stats here show that for 2006 Rubens was 0.3% slower than Jenson, which would be 0.3-second slower in a qualifying lap and 18-seconds behind in a 60-lap race. This is the same as the gap Webber has been measured on my system against Vettel from 2011-2013. Rubens’s huge improvement mentioned by the Planet F1 posters for 2007-2008 is reflected in my ratings; when the two were just 0.1% apart, or 0.1-second per qualifying lap and 6-seconds in a 60 lap race of 100-minutes (as at Abu Dhabi). Very close indeed.

These driver-rating stats confirm posters views quoted above: that Jenson was better overall, but that Barrichello improved from his slow start in 2006 to become very little slower/virtually equal for their last three seasons together.

Barrichello’s deep experience, especially from his six seasons paired with Michael at Ferrari and his excellent car-set up ability, must have rubbed off on team-mate Button. The two were on good terms and worked together as a team, not hiding information from each other. Rubens was new to the Honda team in 2006 and needed adjustment time, which partly explains his 0.3 deficiency in driver-rating speed to Jenson who had been with the team since 2003. Additionally Rubens also needed to recover his confidence or motivation lost in 2005. For the 2009 season many mentions were made concerning Barrichello’s unhappiness with his Brawn’s brake characteristics. When the brake manufacturer was changed halfway through 2009, his performance and Jenson’s seemed to converge, and Rubens gained the upper hand. After the first eight races and Button’s six wins, Barrichello set one pole, scored two wins and three podiums to Button’s no pole, no win and two podiums. Another view is that Button had the championship sewn up and was cruising for points.

To further place the two drivers’ careers in context, I show how my system’s driver-ratings scores them outside of the topic years 2006-2009. Barrichello’s peak seasons were 2002-2004 at Ferrari and Button’s during 2010-2011 at McLaren-Mercedes, when both rated at 100.2. This was faster than they had performed in their Honda-Brawn years and at any other time. Barrichello slowed considerably after he left Brawn and went to Williams-Cosworth in 2010-11. Driver comparisons must always be placed in context by considering career stages and ages. Is Jenson in 2012-2013 approaching the same age-slowing phenomenon as Rubens had, now that he is 34 and has been racing for 14 seasons?

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.



  1. Patrick, great analysis as usual. Let me correct you though in a small fact you mentioned twice: Rubens' first win came in Hockenheim 2000 as a Ferrari driver.

    It was his team-mate Johnny Herbert who achieved his and his team's one and only win in the 1999 European GP.

  2. Hi Daniel, your comment is much appreciated. Thanks for pointing out my mistake - you are quite correct about 1999, it was Herbert, not Barrichello. I will correct it in my blog.