You are here

A Sunday DTM drive with Jenson Button

  1. There’s a great shot of Jenson Button taken the moment he’s climbed out of his car after winning his first Grand Prix, back in 2005 in Hungary. Visor up, his eyes are popping with adrenalin-fuelled elation. As he settles into the driver’s seat of the Mercedes DTM ‘taxi’, he looks across at me and the famous Button orbs are doing exactly the same thing. Very expressive eyes, has Jenson.

    Words: Jason Barlow
    Photos: Rowan Horncastle

  2. ‘And that’s the clutch,’ Merc DTM driver and McLaren test pilot Gary Paffett says semi-seriously, as he gives Jenson the breeziest of whistle-stop tours round what is, let’s not forget, a very senior racing car indeed. This one just happens to have a passenger seat. With me in it. ‘And watch the tyres. They’re cold.’

  3. He’s not wrong. With a prod of the starter button and a clunk into first, JB boots it out of the pit-lane sideways and sets about wrestling the Merc round the short Brands circuit the DTM boys - and girls - will be racing on in an hour’s time. Frankly, the thing feels like Bambi on an ice rink to start with, and with its famous elevation and punchy curves, Brands is keeping Jenson pretty busy at the wheel. This much I know: nobody without superhuman reflexes would have a prayer keeping it on the island on this first lap. One corner has a deceptively wide exit, and we’re all over it. I would probably have ended up in one of the grandstands.

  4. With some heat in the tyres, JB lifts the pace. DTM cars are silhouette racers, not so much touring wagens - despite their C-class/M3/A5 bodies - as full-on formula cars with fairly juicy downforce and oodles of mechanical grip. And the Merc feels chuffing fantastic. We only do three laps, but JB’s quickly monstering the kerbs and giving it loads. He could do this all day, even on a precious weekend away from F1, and I’d rather be here than cutting my lawn.

    But there’s a race on in a bit, so we head to the motor-home for a chat and catch-up ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

  5. Top Gear: So that was honestly your first time in a DTM car?

    Jenson Button: I’ve never even sat in a DTM car before today. I’ve been watching it for years, I remember when Opel were racing in it. So I’m a massive fan. I think it’s probably the best racing category after Formula One. I could have done with more laps, and I’d like to drive one at a big circuit to get some real heat into the tyres. It’s certainly an experience going out on cold rubber. We set up our throttle pedals [in F1] so we know exactly what we’re going to get, and this wasn’t set up so the first time I touched the pedal it was… wooooh. The taxi car doesn’t have as much power or downforce as the new cars, but even after just three laps, yep, I can see they would be fun.

  6. TG: It always amazes me how quickly you dial into a car you don’t know, on a circuit you haven’t raced at for 14 years…

    JB: As a young kid you learn things very quickly and you carry that through. It’s a racing driver thing. Three laps should be enough to dial you into the circuit and enable you to put in a good lap-time… if you know the car! We have to learn things very quickly these days, because of the way testing is now.

  7. TG: Could this be a glimpse into the future?

    JB: One day if the situation was right, I could see myself racing in DTM. If it’s still around when I retire from F1, I’m only young. The cars look great and it’s such a competitive category, as you can see by the guys who come to it from F1. If you do choose to go down this route, you’ve got to really want it. F1 drivers come to DTM because they still enjoy racing, but it’s not a job to them so much, it’s more relaxing. And the younger guys are trying to further their careers. I’d like to find out more about the difference in technique. Mika [Hakkinen] won a race, Frentzen did all right in the end, and DC’s had some decent races… He’s bloody quick, but I’m not sure he’s found the right balance in the car yet.

  8. TG: I don’t know if you get to see much of the BBC F1 coverage, but he’s started really taking the piss out of himself…

    JB: I know! It’s like he’s forgotten he won 13 GPs. I don’t know if he’s insecure or something, or just joking around. The guy has achieved so much in a sport that’s massively competitive, and came so close to winning the World Championship. Maybe he forgets that. Trust me, DC’s still bloody quick.

  9. TG: So, 2012 is turning into a very curious season. Impossible to call. What did you make of Michael Schumacher’s comments about it being like driving on raw eggs?

    JB: Hmm. Well if you were winning every race, maybe you could make a comment like that, but when you’re not… I agree with him that it’s very difficult to understand the tyres. If you understand that the tyre degrades and you can work with that, fair enough. But when you can’t work out what the operating range of the tyre is, that’s the most difficult thing. I don’t remember where Maldonado qualified and finished in Bahrain, but you wouldn’t have expected him to come to Barcelona and win the Grand Prix. And to be quick, massively so. I almost got lapped by him! OK, I was ninth and I wasn’t having a good race, but still… It wasn’t horrendous and he almost lapped me. So it’s difficult to understand what changes.

  10. TG: What do you think is going on?

    JB: The tyres. Teams really working their tyres correctly. If you ask Williams why they won in Barcelona, they won’t know why. They did a good job over the weekend, but there’s no reason why they should have been that quick compared to us. We don’t understand why, and we have to work on it. We did some work in the simulator this week, how to get temperature into the tyre, what happens when you do… you know, one slide could damage the tyre. That’s the thing you’ve got to work with and maybe try to drive in a different way.

  11. TG: And yet you’re famous for being the smoothest guy out there. For managing your tyres…

    JB: I haven’t been this year! In the last race I damaged my tyres quicker than my team-mate, for the first time ever. So there’s definitely something weird going on. Someone’s got to work it out in the end, we always do. There are some very clever people in F1. A lot of the teams now have people there specifically working on the tyres. We have Hiroshi who came from Bridgestone. We’re slowly starting to work it out. But then you think you’ve worked it out, and you get to the next race and it’s completely different. We have Monaco this weekend, which is super-soft, so I’m hoping it’ll work. It has done in the past for me and the car.

  12. TG: So you expect to be near the front?

    JB: [sarcastically] Er, yeah! With McLaren, you expect to be near the front at every race, but sometimes it doesn’t quite work like that. At the last race I was massively quick on Friday, Lewis was struggling with the balance of the car and was half a second off, then on Saturday it’s all changed around. [shrugs shoulders] I think maybe I was pushing too hard, and when you do that it damages the tyres. So as far as Monaco goes, we will see.

  13. TG: You were mobbed out there. How does that feel?

    JB: We have so much support here. To be honest, I’ve never got used to that sort of reception. It’s almost a bit embarrassing, but they’re proper avid, dedicated racing fans in the UK, and it was great to see people out there with old BAR and even Williams caps. A great feeling.

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.

Promoted content