PRESS ASSOCIATION SPORT
This season promises to be a very different one for Jenson Button.
There is little the 34-year-old Somerset man has not experienced in a rollercoaster, 249-race career, but he will find himself in very unfamiliar waters as he tackles 2014 without father John by his side. John Button passed away earlier this year from a suspected heart attack, having remarkably missed only one of his son's races – the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix, and only then due to illness.
The 70-year-old was without doubt the key component of Team Button, the name for the entourage that has accompanied Jenson to virtually every race over the past few years. Aside from John, trainer Mikey Collier, manager Richard Goddard and Jessica Michibata, to whom Button recently became engaged, have been on hand to celebrate and console. It was John, though, who was undoubtedly Jenson's guiding light, who was there for his son every step of the way from a very early age as he rose from go-karting to F1 by the time he turned 20. They, of course, had their rituals, too. John, wearing a pink shirt that became his trademark item of clothing on race day, would always embrace Jenson prior to him departing for the grid. And it is sure to be tough on Jenson when all that changes this season.
Other than a few tweets soon after his father's death, Button has been guarded with his feelings, simply stating the start to this year has been "an emotional rollercoaster".
He may find comfort in the fact that after one of the worst years in McLaren's history last season, the team now appear to be on the right track. McLaren finished a wretched 2013 without a podium to their name for the first time in 33 years, which resulted in an internal coup, and the removal of Martin Whitmarsh as team principal. Ron Dennis has returned to his former role as chief executive officer and is again in overall charge of a team without a drivers' title since 2008 and, embarrassingly, a constructors' crown since 1998.
For all their resources and their history, such statistics will not sit easy with Dennis, a fiercely-proud man who is determined to see his team not only challenging for wins and titles again, but leading the way in F1. At the forefront of that challenge are Button, now with 14 years' experience behind him, and a driver at the opposite end of the spectrum in rookie Kevin Magnussen.
While pre-season testing is rarely a guideline to what can follow over the course of a season, the past few weeks have shone some light like never before.
The plethora of regulation changes, and notably the arrival of the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units, have meant teams have been unable to keep their cards close to their chest.
To that end, McLaren have looked promising, racking up the mileage, although Button encountered more problems than Magnussen along the way, to such an extent the Dane completed 800 more kilometres.
Understandably Button is not getting too carried away, but he at least feels McLaren could restore their credibility this season.
"The guys have done a fantastic job, and they are so pumped for this year after such a bad year," said Button. "They don't just have a job at McLaren, they are here to race, and they will do anything to win grands prix. It's good to see the buzz is back in McLaren because we struggled a bit last year.
"The main thing for us is to obviously have a better season than we did in 2013, but we also want to get back to the front.
"In that respect, this car definitely has potential. There is a very good feel about it, although there is more work that needs to be done with regard to the one-lap pace."
The suggestion is McLaren will at least be knocking on the door of the early frontrunners, which at this stage appear to be Mercedes and Williams.
Button, though, is expecting the battle to swing to and fro over the course of the campaign as teams make new discoveries.
"It's going to be a very exciting season for the fans," added Button. "I don't think anyone knows who is going to put it on pole at the first race – although I have a good idea.
"But who's going to win the championship? I really wouldn't know, it could really change. The cars at the first race won't necessarily be quick at the end of the year because there are going to be such different changes over the course of it. It's not going to be just a little bit here and there, there are going to be massive overhauls of downforce and upgrades, areas you can upgrade with the power unit."
As for changes inside McLaren, Dennis has put new building blocks in place, such as installing former Lotus team principal Eric Boullier into the newly-created role of racing director. Another new post, yet to be filled, is that of CEO of McLaren Racing, all of which lends Button to believe the team is on the up again.
"It's good to have fresh ideas," said Button. "When the management structure is complete, we'll be in good shape."
Hopefully the same can be said of Button come the end of a year in which his personal support structure has been dramatically altered.