Jenson Button channels No5 at McLaren with nod to F1's Nigel Mansell

Jenson Button

Jenson Button is fit and fast enough to win his second Formula One world championship this year, but in case he needs a little help he is calling on Nigel Mansell and Luke Skywalker.

As double invocations go this is surely one of the best. Both were brave and sometimes breathtakingly fast. And both characters are associated with the red No5, which Button's McLaren car will be carrying this season.

"I'm going to be No5 because that's where I finished in the championship last year," the British driver said. "And our numbers are always rocket red. So it's luck more than judgment. Luke Skywalker – he was No5, wasn't he?"

Indeed he was. Or at least, that was the call-sign for the X-wing fighter he piloted in Star Wars. But in F1 terms the red five is evocative of one of Britain's finest champions. When Mansell joined Williams the white Nos5 and 6 were often confused, so his was coloured red. Murray Walker often referred to Mansell and his car as "Red Five" .

At McLaren's launch of their 2013 car, Button – or "Luke Mansell" as he jokingly referred to himself – said: "Nigel meant a lot for every kid growing up, whether you were into Formula One or not. Because F1 was massive in the late 80s and early 90s.

"'Mansell mania' it was called, especially when he won at Silverstone. People were going crazy. It was a really good time for motor sport in general, but especially in the UK. "Those times do mean a lot and that's what I grew up with as a kid. I was racing in karts at the time, 12 years old. A lot of very good memories. Maybe we should have asked Nigel about having a red No5 before we decided to do it."

Beyond the joshing and japes that often attend these functions, however, Button's professional optimism about the new season was underpinned by a very real belief that he can achieve something special this season. He refuses to describe McLaren as "his" team now. But there is no doubt that the departure to Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, his team-mate at Woking for three years, has given his chances an enormous boost before the new season starts on 17 March, in Melbourne.

"Most drivers say they're excited about the season," he said, "but you don't really enjoy all the pre-season stuff, the interviews, the sponsorship events, it's not what we're here to do, it's not what we love. But this year I arrived back and I thought: 'Let's get it on.' I'm really excited about working with the sponsors, trying to do everything as well as we can, make it as fun as we can and it's been really good so far.

"I've even enjoyed talking to you guys, man. This isn't normal. There's something wrong with me. But I'm in a really good place, and really excited about driving the car on Tuesday."

Button is 33 now, and the most experienced grand prix driver on the grid. But there is no one fitter. Last year McLaren started – and finished – with the fastest car. If they can overcome their reliability issues of last season, Button really does have a chance. And what would Hamilton think, down the paddock at Mercedes, if his old team-mate did pull it off?

Powered by article was written by Paul Weaver, for The Observer on Saturday 2nd February 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © McLaren