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Looking back going forward

Maurice Hamilton February 11, 2014
John Button and David Robertson in the Bahrain paddock in 2007 © Getty Images

There was a sad connection at the weekend between the news of David Robertson's passing and a truly heart-warming gathering in memory of John Button. These street-wise rascals were two of a kind, united not only by a love of motor sport but also their combined efforts in helping Jenson Button into Formula One.

David Robertson was 'old school'. He reminded me of 'Del Boy' Trotter in the manner of his ducking and diving in such a likeable manner. He was unobtrusive yet highly effective when promoting his drivers, as Peter Sauber knows only too well.

Robertson was handling Kimi Räikkönen's launch into Formula One; a tricky task when you consider the Kimster had only competed in 23 motor races - in total. And yet here was David, touting his boy among the great and the good of F1. Robertson could see a potential we now know about; the problem at the time was getting Kimi into a F1 car in order to prove it. Sauber was still chuckling over Robertson's audacity when he spoke about it over dinner one night a decade later at Monza.

"This was in 2000," said Sauber. "I'd never met David Robertson before. He came to see me and explained about his experience with Kimi. All the nice stories: Kimi's go-kart driving; how he was with slicks in wet conditions. David was……an excellent salesman! I really don't understand why I gave Kimi a car for three days. We had no money and, normally, when you do a test for young drivers then you have a three-day test with six drivers and make it pay. But Robertson told me this guy is very, very special and he needs a car for three days. And, of course, they paid nothing; absolutely nothing. I still don't understand why I made this decision. But obviously, I'm very happy I did."

Robertson would have loved being at Goodwood House on Saturday as motor sport people gathered to honour John Button. It wasn't a memorial service as such; more an occasion simply to remember a man who, judging by the broad cross-section of guests, was much-loved. There were representatives from Williams, Renault, BAR, Brawn and McLaren; the teams that had not only given F1 drives to Jenson but, as an unwritten part of the deal, enjoyed his father's unassuming presence in the back of the garage and in the hospitality suite - particularly the hospitality suite where John would regularly do his best for the local wine producer's sales figures. As recalled by journalist David Tremayne in an eloquent speech made without the aid of notes, it was here that we would meet for a glass of red or a cup of tea and a casual break from the serious business of the day.

Tremayne preceded Murray Walker, who attempted to start with an anecdote involving a former Prime Minister - but had to pause for several seconds because he couldn't remember John Major's name. Some might say that is fitting for such a grey politician but it is not an accusation that could be made against John Button if the funny and, at times, deeply moving eulogies from Jenson and his sister, Tanya, were anything to go by.

With the easy-going formalities done, the gathering of more than 200 guests mingled in the grand ballroom and quietly raised their glasses to someone who will be much-missed in the paddocks of the world.

The talk among F1 people was about one thing: the season ahead and the lessons from Jerez. A simple summary is that no one has the first idea about what to expect; I mean, they really haven't a clue.

There were horror stories of teams standing idly in the garage while boffins, in one case, spent four hours over keyboards trying to find the correct codes to allow one piece of on-board kit to talk to another. Gone are the days of plugging in the ECU - and away she goes. At Jerez, it was a major achievement for some teams if the car completed an out lap with the same number of cylinders running at the finish - assuming it got back to the pits at all.

Mixed opinion, too, on the noise. Or lack of it. Some feel engines that allow you to hold a mobile phone call when standing alongside are hardly going to stir spectators' blood. Others say the respite from the piercingly identical scream of the V8 is enhanced by each engine sounding different. And never mind the noise; what about the sight of rear ends kicking out under a torque so strong that third or fourth gears need to be used where once it was first or second? And moving on, I found very few willing to say outright that Red Bull are in the poo.

The only common denominator is huge anticipation for the season ahead for any number of reasons. Not least the juxtaposition of Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso at Ferrari; Button and Kevin Magnussen at McLaren. And I think we know what David Robertson and John Button would have said about that.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live