Q & A with Jenson Button

Jenson Button is still on a high after capturing the world championship this year - although he readily confesses the challenge of switching to McLaren has given him a fresh motivation too

Q & A with Jenson Button

Making his first public appearance of the year at the AUTOSPORT International Show on Saturday, Button was on top form as he received a rapturous reception from the thousands of fans who had turned out to see him.

Taking to the stage, and fielding questions from both the host and the public, Button talked about his title success, the move to McLaren and why his singing is still a major talking point.

Q. I guess that applause still gives you a real buzz, doesn't it?

Jenson Button: Yeah, you can call me world champion all you like. Everyone keeps saying it, and saying, 'oh, I bet that gets boring after a while?' But not really. It is quite nice.

Q. Can we take you back to October 18 and the greatest day of your life? Can you relive a few of the emotions of that day?

JB: It wasn't the easiest weekend. It was Brazil, Sao Paulo GP. Saturday didn't really go to plan. It was raining in qualifying, we were very cautious as you would be in our position... maybe a little bit too cautious. We chose the wrong tyres for the conditions and I qualified down in 14th.

That was a very difficult position to be in. I got to watch qualifying and I got to watch my team-mate qualify on pole for the race in his home country, where the crowd went wild. It was a really difficult situation.

I had to pick myself up on Saturday evening. I was helped a lot by the team and the people around me, and I came in on Sunday morning very focused and really wanting to get it wrapped up in Brazil. To be fair, I must say, the crowd did spur me on, but in a very different way to what you could imagine.

They are very passionate the Brazilian fans, as we are for motorsport, and they were really cheering for their driver Rubens [Barrichello] and really booing for me! But it helped me, it really drove me on. I had to really fight my way through the field to make it happen in Brazil.

It was such a fun race for me. It was a real challenging race and I really had to take the bit between my teeth. I was like a hungry lion I suppose, and it was a fantastic experience and to cross the line and the team say, you are the F1 world champion in 2009 is something I will never forget. I didn't know how to react, so I thought I would sing, 'We are the Champions!'

Q. And how did it go?

JB: It was pretty good actually, if I do say so myself. For some reason the broadcasting quality wasn't very good! But from what I heard it was a pretty good rendition. So I was very happy, I'm going to release an album soon, 'Songs from inside my helmet', and I am looking forward to it.

Q. It was a funny year, wasn't it? The first six or seven races were fantastic, and then it sort of tailed off a bit. Were you concerned?

JB: There were a couple of races, one was Singapore, and also in Japan, where it was very frustrating. After the first seven races we got to some circuits that really didn't suit our car, and I struggled really to get tyre temperature, whereas my team-mate didn't struggle so much. It is a different style of driving, something I really had to work on, and I did get better at through the season

But also, because we were in such a position of leading the championship by quite a few points, we were too cautious. We didn't want anything to go wrong. We were too cautious for the situation, although you can say too cautious and we still ended up winning the championship. I think we should have been a little bit more aggressive with our strategy, and also myself, I should have been more aggressive.

It was a position I had never been in before. It was something I really learned through the season, and it is amazing that you learn so much when you are fighting for a championship - a championship that is so important to you. So it was a very up and down season, and when we got to Brazil, and also a couple of races before Brazil, we realised we started to need to get aggressive again and we really had to fight for this.

It wasn't just going to come to us. The thing is there was some negative publicity for a couple of races, but we never forgot that we had such a lead in the championship. We had a 14 point lead, and that was the worst it ever got before I won the championship, which is massive. The last three years have been won by one or two points, so it was a very strange position to be in knowing you had to be a little conservative and maybe when you are conservative you go too far. It is all a learning curve, and you learn so much when you are in that position, and it means I come back this year so much stronger as an individual - not just as a driver.

Q. But you never once let your head drop - even through the grief with BAR and Honda. You got on with it and kept smiling.

JB: I did, but just not in public. It is so important when you are working with such a big team. If your head drops, then the 700 people that work with you, their heads drop because you are one of the spokesmen for that team. It is quite a lot to have on your shoulders when you are that young. It is a real experience and you do grow up very quickly. I speak not just for myself but every driver who is out there racing for a big team.

It is all positive and negative. You always have positives and negatives through your career - even if you are racing for best team in the world there are always going to be negatives. It is about building on those negatives and taking the positives out of them, and it is what you have to do in a cut-throat sport like F1.

Q. Let's talk about McLaren and 2010. Lewis Hamilton has been there for a few years, and you are going into what is perceived as a scenario that revolves around him. How are you going to approach that?

JB: It is an interesting one because people always say that after you win the world championship, are you really that hungry to achieve that again? I have been working for 21 years to achieve my goal - but yes, I am massively hungry. When I won the world championship in Brazil I was looking for something else. I thought I have achieved what I set out to do, but what do I do now? It is a very strange situation to be in, because you should enjoy the moment but it is very, very difficult to because you are always thinking too far ahead that you have to be careful of.

I knew that moving to a new team and moving to Vodafone McLaren Mercedes would be a real challenge for me, and racing alongside Lewis, but it is a challenge I am so excited about. I am putting so much effort into making this work. This is the most important thing for me at the moment.

Winning the championship with Brawn was great, because we worked so hard for it over many, many years. But now to race for McLaren, a team that has so much history and has achieved so much in F1 is a real privilege for me. And working alongside Lewis, the guy has achieved so much in the sport in such a limited time, he has had some massive ups and downs, and it is my career squashed into two or three years. So, we have a lot of experience there and if we work together we will build a phenomenal race car and have a very good season.

Q. Have you met your side of the garage? How is it going to work?

JB: Each driver in F1 has two main engineers - the race engineer, who you talk to most of the time, and the data engineer, who is pushing keys, but does a lot more than that!

It is always something that is very personal. I worked with my previous engineer for seven years in my career, and I got very close to him. It is very important to get that relationship, so when I first got to McLaren I thought this was going to be a tricky situation. I have been working with my two engineers in the simulator quite a few times.

It is going really well. I am surprised in a good way that we have got to know each other very quickly. McLaren is very lucky because they have a simulator that it not like a computer game. A lot of other teams' simulators are like a computer game but this is close to reality as you are going to get it really. We have been doing a lot of set-up work on the car, testing new tyres and what have you, and they are the guys sat behind me while I am driving. We are talking to them, the whole time, just like in testing. And we have really got to know each other, and understanding each other is very, very important within a team.

You can be the best driver in the world and the best engineer in the world, but if you don't work together, if you don't click, it is never going to work. It has started clicking already, so I am very happy there, and now we can push forward and produce something special.

Q. If you could have your career again, is there anything you would do differently?

JB: It is very easy to say, yes. I would love to forget about the difficult years, and 2008 was a pretty tough year for me, but if I didn't have that season then maybe I would not have won the world championship this year. I would not change anything. I think it makes you the person you are. We all go through difficult times, some much worse than others of course. But it makes you the person you are and makes you a lot stronger.

Q. If you weren't a racing car driver what would you be?

JB: I don't have an answer for that one! The obvious one would be to be a singer - that is the obvious one! Something I would want to be? I don't know really, it is a difficult one. My whole life has been focused on motor racing. I left school at 16, which worked for me, and I started racing. My whole career and whole life has been aimed at F1 and winning in F1.

I don't know. It is something I need to think about for after racing, but not yet. What am I going to do after racing in F1? I don't know. I want to do the Dakar, which would be quite fun, that is on at the moment and I would like to do that. It is something very difficult but outside of motorsport is something I need to think about and something my manager is thinking about right now.

Q. What about Le Mans?

JB: Yeah, that would be okay. If I raced in other formulae it would be because I want to go and have fun. Doing the Dakar, for example, I would want to do it as a privateer, just go there and have fun. It would be such a life experience. If you get into one of the top teams and you are racing for them, it is just so much pressure. I would want to go there and enjoy the race.

Q. Silverstone has a 17-year deal, which is great for Britain and F1...

Jenson Button: Yes it is. I couldn't believe that we were going to lose the British Grand Prix. They decided that it was going to go to Donington, which was exciting - it's always exciting racing on a new circuit. But that didn't happen and we're back at Silverstone, which I don't think is a bad thing at all - I think it's a great thing.

There's a couple of great things about it, and one of them is that they are going to tweak the circuit, which will hopefully make it better for viewing and better for racing. They don't need to do much because it's such a spectacular circuit, and we had 120,000 people there on Sunday last year. It was a sell-out crowd, and there were probably only two other races that had sell-out crowds. It's so nice that we have a British Grand Prix and that we can really enjoy what British drivers have achieved over decades of motorsport.

Q. Who will be quicker out of you and Lewis Hamilton?

JB: I tell you what, it's an interesting one for the British public and for the fans of racing and also journalists, because whatever happens, a Brit is going to come out on top at the team. But at the moment to make anything happen, we don't want to be fighting for sixth and seventh and be head-to-head against each other, we want to fight for the championship.

And to make that happen, we have to work together. I'm sure you've heard drivers saying that millions of times, but it's the truth. I couldn't have won the world championship in 2009 if it wasn't for Rubens [Barrichello]. You work together. It's a 19-race season, and whoever comes out on top will come out on top. I don't know who it will be - I'm hoping it's me, and Lewis will be hoping it's him. But there is a lot of work to do before we even jump in the car, let along fight it out for the championship.

Q. So you're saying that you wouldn't have done it in 2009 if Rubens had driven quicker?

JB: [laughs] Fair play to Rubens, he has got a great drive this year and I hope he does very well. It's always sad though when you've worked with someone for so many years and then you separate. It's like a relationship. But his work and his effort within the team in 2009 was immense, so I need to thank him for all of his hard work.

Q. You're used to driving at very fast speeds - have you ever been caught speeding?

JB: I got a fine this year - I was doing 66 km/h in a 60, and I got a 4000 euro fine for that.

Q. Where did you find the money?

JB: The team paid for it - it was in Brazil, on the circuit. That was the last time I got caught speeding; it was in an F1 car. Can you believe that we can get fined for speeding in an F1 car for speeding? How crazy is that? And it was something like 1000 euros a kilometre. It's quite a lot, isn't it?

But I have been caught for speeding, a long time ago. It was back in 2000, I was driving for Williams at the time, and I got caught speeding in France. I was very silly.

Q. What car do you drive at the moment?

JB: I have a Smart Car, which is not the most exciting car. And I've heard it's not very good in the snow, either. I also have a C63 Mercedes, which looks like a normal C-Class but it's got 500 horsepower and it sounds meaty, as well. That's a lot of fun. It's in white. On a circuit you can drift it, you can have lots of fun.

I actually arrived at Woking about 10 days ago in the snow, and I was struggling a little bit with the car in the snow. To be fair, I should be OK at driving whatever, but I drove into the factory sideways and thought I was going to wipe out the entrance sign. I just gathered it back up and left it there, because I couldn't drive it any further, and then they came to me and said that the tyres were on the limit of being illegal. They were still legal, but they were on the limit. So they took it away and they put new tyres on it for me. It was like going to the Kwik-Fit. How good's that? Fantastic. And they did a great job with it.

Q: What do you think of Bernie's suggestion about introducing short-cuts into the circuits?

JB: I suppose if you are the only person who knows about it then it is a great idea. It's just... we struggle seeing anyway out of the sides of the cars, because the cockpit comes up to here for safety reasons. And we struggle seeing, so if there is a car coming at an angle, it can be very dangerous. It's probably not one of his better ideas. Bernie has a lot of very, very good ideas, and that is not one of the best ideas that Bernie has come up with.

Q. Here we are in 2010 and you are joining Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for the new challenge. Why have you opted to do that and go to a team that is perceived to be built around Lewis Hamilton?

JB: Because I feel I can make myself part of that team. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think so. I'd been with same team for seven years now, and built a lot of people around me, built the team around me - especially my engineers as I have been with them for seven years.

It is a real comfort zone. It would be easy for me to say, it is comfortable here, I have a nice comfy pillow and duvet, and I will stay here. But I don't want to do it. I want to change my environment. It is going to be more difficult because we really don't like change. We struggle with it initially. I know that so I am going to the team very open minded, and so far I've spent a few days at the factory, at McLaren in Woking.

It has been very good. I've been doing a lot of simulator work with my engineers. It is a very homely environment, and I didn't know what to expect. But it has been great. And they have such a passion for winning. You might not see that on the outside but trust me it is there. I've been with a team for the last seven years that has really got that passion as well. And people don't think that about McLaren, but they really do have the passion to succeed. They are strict in certain ways with what they do, but it is the way you have to be if you are going to win.

Q. We saw Brawn GP's competitiveness tailing off in the second half of 2009, and McLaren's climbing up. Is that momentum going to continue?

JB: I hope so. I studied the whole season of McLaren last year after the year, and it made massive improvements during the year. The amount of parts they put on car in 2009 was immense, there was no other team like it. People will say, did they concentrate too much on 2009? I don't think they did, a lot of the parts that we used in 2009 will be carried over to 2010 so I think they did the right thing. I think 2009, I am not going to speak for the team, but from my point of view it was a good year for them because they struggled at the start of the year and I think that made them stronger.

It made them realise they can build these amount of parts to put on the car and improve it through the year. And maybe we all sometimes need a wake-up call. So I am positive they will be there next year. For me, every day I am always thinking about how I can improve myself and the team.

There are 70 per cent of athletes or sportsmen that win a world championship, they don't succeed the following year. I have to try and be positive and think about the 30 per cent that did and work out why they won again. That is something that we never think about going into a season. I have got the right people around me and I've spent a few days thinking about that and working on it, and I am going to be doing all of that right the way up to the first race.

Q. What is the latest on the plans for you to drive the MP4-25?

JB: I am testing on February 3. The first day is Pedro [de la Rosa], then Lewis and myself on the third day. I am looking forward to it. It is going to be the strangest day because it is going to be one of the most important days in F1 in 2010 when we see where people stand, which cars are quick and which cars are competitive.

When you have the base from the first test then it is a great base to build on. We had that at Brawn last year, and we need to start the year with a good car. If we don't we can get there, but it is very difficult to get there for the first race because it is only one month away. We are hoping for a positive test and there is a lot of work to do before that. I am in the simulator quite a lot before the first test, and I am at the factory a lot. So I want to get ready for the first test like it is the first race, because I don't want an excuse when I get to Melbourne alongside Lewis. I want to be ready for the first race 100 per cent.

Q. You like a smooth car and have a smooth driving style, and it's been said that this could help with the 2010 regulations. What do you think about that?

JB: Everyone always say Lewis is quite aggressive in his style. But when he has got a good car underneath him I don't think he is that aggressive, I think he is reasonably smooth. So our car set-up will obviously be different, but I don't think it will be that far away.

We are both good at coping with difficult situations, so I think that with the heavy fuel load we can change our style slightly because you are going to try and be smooth for the tyres because with that much fuel on board it is going to damage the tyres quite quickly. Also the brakes and also yourself - you have to look after yourself in an hour and 40 minutes race. You have to try and be relaxed through that whole stint. And it is so important to look after fuel as well because we get to the first race, we fill the tank up. We have an understanding of how much fuel we are going to use in a race, but you never actually know until you are in a race situation

So there is a lot of balancing going on. There is a lot of work in the simulator and at the test before the first race to make sure that we are ready for the first race. As you have seen for the last few years, the person that wins the first race normally goes on to win the world championship or at least challenge for it.

So, it is an important race for us and it will be an easy race for people to make mistakes in. They will arrive thinking they have got a quick car, but if they do not do the strategy and think of all the scenarios of the first race then they are going to make a mistake and that is the easiest way to pick up points at the first race - and that is what we will be aiming to do.

Q. Who do you think will be your main rivals this year?

JB: It is a real difficult one. I think you would have to say that there are four teams that are going to be quick - us, I think the Mercedes GP team will be quick, my old team, Red Bull and you can't count out Ferrari - they have such a great history in F1.

Out of the drivers in those teams, I personally think Fernando [Alonso] is going to very competitive. I don't know how he is going to be going to a new team - it didn't really work for him before! But he is a very quick driver, and if he finds the right environment he will be very quick. [Felipe] Massa is an interesting one, because he has had such a long time away and obviously the way he finished his last race was very tough mentally on him, so I don't know where he is going to stand. Hopefully he will be back in the game and we all want to see that.

At Red Bull, [Sebastian] Vettel had the edge over [Mark] Webber, but I think there will be a bit of in-house rivalry there which will be good. And obviously Lewis - he has had three years in F1 and has done exceptionally well so he will be a tough rival as well. But before he becomes a rival he has got to be a good team-mate.

We need to work together. He understands that as well. And if we work together, we have so much experience in F1, the bad times and the good times, that I think it will really push us on and help us. It is not easy out there, and especially in 2010, there are so many good drivers in competitive cars. And Michael is coming back. I think Michael will be quick straight off. He is not silly and he is not going to arrive and build up to it. He will be ready for the first race and we cannot forget that.

Q. Do you think it will be harder with your new race engineer, compared to what you had at Brawn and Honda?

JB: It is an interesting one. I have worked with 'Shov', Andrew Shovlin, for seven years and Pete Bonnington, who was my data engineer for four or five years. So it is always a little bit difficult when you change engineers, because you really build up a rapport with your engineer.

You can be the best engineer or the best driver in the world, but if you don't understand each other it is not going to work. I have spent a few days with my new engineers and it has been really good. We have the help of the simulator, which they have been working on for 15 years so it is as close as you will get to a real race car. I spent a few days in there with my new engineers, getting to know them, and it has been really positive. I am happy. They are really good guys.

My main engineer is Jakob [Andreasen]. He has a lot of experience in F1 but he is also young and hungry to succeed. I have no worries about that for the first race. There is still a lot of work we need to do with our relationship and getting to know each other. I think sometimes when you do move teams and you want a new start, it is good to have the break of working with the same engineers when you arrive in the new team. I think it is the best way.

It is sad to leave my previous engineers because we had such a good relationship, and a good season last year. But it is the correct thing to do. They have their hands full now anyway, as they are working with Michael. They are okay I am sure.

Q. What are your favourite and least favourite circuits?

JB: Favourites? It is the quick circuits. We weren't so good on them this year as we struggled. Suzuka is a pretty awesome circuit. I think it is also because it is in Japan and I love Japan as well. Silverstone is a good circuit, I really enjoy racing at Silverstone, although overtaking is quite difficult. Hopefully the new changes that we have got for this year, will help overtaking. We will have to wait and see.

I also love Macau, Macau is a lot of fun. I raced there in F3 - and it is absolutely crazy circuit around the streets. I don't know what the safety is like there, but I wouldn't want to race anything bigger than an F3 car around there. That was a great experience. And if you are racing in single seaters it is something that you have got to do before you get to F1. It is a great experience and it is also a lot of fun as well.

Q. I noticed the 'Old Man' upstairs earlier on. Are you going to buy him a new lucky shirt this year?

JB: Did you just call my dad, my 'Old Man!' I call him my old man, or 'Papa Smurf' which is what my girlfriend calls him. A new shirt? I don't know what colour he is going to go for this year.

Probably silver, he will have a shave and cut his hair! What could do you think he should wear this year?

Q. [Shouts of Orange]

JB: Orange? You want to make him look like an orange? Wicked. I am looking forward to him looking like an orange - so orange it is!

Q. McLaren is notorious for you having to be clean shaven. Do you have to lose it and keep it off?

JB: I didn't see that bit in the contract, but maybe I didn't look at the fine print. No, as far as I know. I am pretty smart. I am wearing a suit!

I actually thought I would be wearing McLaren gear this weekend and I was in Finland doing my training bit and all the tests they had me doing. I thought I won't bother having a haircut, because I will be wearing a cap. But look. I'm wearing a suit and I've got a big bushy hair. I don't think I have to be clean shaven. They haven't said anything about that.

But I like it. I've got into the clean shaven. I feel younger. It is the first time I've had a younger team-mate as well, so I have to start shaving and looking a bit younger!

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