Jenson Button is keeping the good times in his relationship with Honda close almost a decade after his first victory with the Japanese outfit at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.
It was Button’s breakthrough victory, delivering on potential unrealised over his first 115 race in Formula One.
The 2006 season was Honda’s first as a constructor since 1968, but after 12 rounds it had scored just one podium and eight point-scoring finishes between its two drivers.
The race was classic Button, mastering mixed weather conditions to emerge comfortably victorious when most of the rest of the field struggled, making it an unforgettable day for the sport’s most senior Briton.
“First victory and it was Honda’s first victory for four decades as a team,” reminisced Button. “It was a very special weekend.
“We had problems on the Saturday — we had an engine problem — so we started the race fourteenth, and came through and won our first grand prix together, so it was a very special weekend.”
The victory came halfway through Button’s six-year relationship with Honda, having raced with the Honda-powered BAR team since 2003.
Button paid credit to the Honda engineers who helped to get him to his emotional first victory.
“That day the president of Honda was here, Fukui-san. He came to two grands prix that year, and that was one of them, and he was on the podium with me.
“Your first grand prix you always remember, and you remember the people who won it with you as well — the team, the engineers, and what have you — and we were all crying our eyes out.
“I remember every second. And the king was P2 — Pedro de la Rosa — I remember that very well!”
Honda explosively withdrew from the sport at the end of 2008 as the global financial crisis took hold of the automotive sector, temporarily leaving Button without a drive and possibly at the end of his career.
What followed was perhaps Formula One’s closest thing to a fairy tale: Brawn GP, rising from the ashes of the old Honda squad, delivered a car that took both the team and Button to championship glory in 2009.
But Honda was always destined to re-enter Formula One, an idea backed by abundant rumours that it continued to build engines and mock up chassis designs based on modern regulations just to keep its engineers sharp.
“They’re very emotional about their racing,” said Button. “The period when they weren’t in Formula One, from 2009 until last year, was a very tough time for Honda because they are all about racing.
“They are so passionate about motorsport, but obviously it wasn’t the right time for them. Now it is.
“They’re a great company to work with. They really listen to what the drivers have to say, which is very important in motorsport — especially in Formula One, when we’re trying to catch up with other engine manufacturers.
“They listen to every detail Fernando and myself say, so the relationship is working very well.”
Arriving back in the modern day, though, Jenson had little to make of his chances with the historic Japanese company at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“It should suit us much more in terms of layout of the circuit, and we have some parts that will help the weaknesses we have in certain speed corners.
“You’d have to say that we’re hoping for points. The last time I scored points was in Monaco, and that’s the last time I finished a race.”
Two months between points is an ugly time frame for a world champion, but keeping the good times close might be enough to get him through.