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Formula 1

Why I love Button’s 2004 Imola pole lap

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

In an occasional series, The Race’s writers and contributors make the case for something they love – or loathe – about motorsport past or present.

As Formula 1 returns to Imola, Scott Mitchell explains why a single lap of the track had such an impact on his life.

Not a lot of Formula 1 moments from the first half of my life stand out, but Jenson Button’s Imola pole lap from 2004 does. In freakishly detailed fashion, too.

It is the earliest moment I associate with F1 and something I can recall vividly without having to find the footage. I’ve found it anyway, obviously. I don’t need much excuse to, but if all F1’s return to Imola this weekend achieves is making me think of that lap, or having an excuse and opportunity to watch it again, I’ll consider it worthwhile.

That lap is an unblemished example of what can happen in F1 when everything’s singing

There’s a good chance you’ve seen the onboard footage in the build-up, as I’m certainly not alone in thinking it’s a brilliant lap. It seems it’s one that JB’s quite fond of as well!

That lap triggers an uncharacteristically visceral reaction. I’m not one to lament the absence of screaming F1 engines, but I adore the soundtrack the 2004 V10 Honda engine provides.

The subtle aggression of that era of car can be seen by Button’s head bobbing around even down the straights. And the precision as he threads the BAR – which I thought was gorgeous! – through Tamburello is brilliant: it sets up everything about the lap that follows, a brilliant blend of commitment and judgement.

I also loved that he bested Michael Schumacher. Schumacher! That’s how good it was. When I was 12 I didn’t know, let alone care, that Button’s pole lap was mainly down to a lighter fuel load than the Ferrari. I don’t care now. As far as I’m concerned, that lap is an unblemished example of what can happen in F1 when everything’s singing.

Michael Schumacher Jenson Button Imola 2004

It probably helps that I’ve always loved Imola. I can’t really explain why but as a circuit I always thought it was really cool and loved driving it on video games.

And as my interest in F1 picked up just as Button’s breakthrough season was getting going, I quickly became a Button fan.

That’s a big part of why I look back on the lap so fondly. I liked F1 as I got older, but I was a fan of Button. He was responsible for turning me from a kid raised on rallycross/touring cars into one who watched almost every grand prix.

So a first-ever Button pole lap, at Imola, is about as cool as F1 gets for me.

Maybe without that lap, something else would have grabbed my attention and made me care about F1. Maybe it’s not even my first ‘real’ F1 memory and the mind is playing tricks because I’ve watched it a fair few times on YouTube since!

But I believe I wouldn’t have become so invested in F1 if I hadn’t been cheering on Button. That wouldn’t have happened without the obsession I had with his 2004 season. And that Imola lap is such a fundamental part of it.

Jenson Button BAR Imola 2004

So, F1 can blame Button’s genius over 80 seconds or so of exquisite Imola driving for having to put up with me. Which is why I have such a soft spot for the lap. It’s one of the few things that I still watch back with child-like wonder and I love that it’s capable of doing that. I also love the idea that it’s the ‘ground zero’ point for F1 being such an important part of my life.

That means there’s probably a more scientific or psychological explanation for why a Button pole position from 16 years ago means so much to me now.

But I prefer to keep the reason I love it a little simpler: it really is a mega lap.

Jenson Button is back in action next weekend as he joins the British GT Championship field at Silverstone with his own Jenson Team Rocket RJN squad.

His team-mates include World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin, who still has a title shot heading into the finale of his rookie season.

You can watch British GT live on The Race’s YouTube channel.

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