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Jenson Button: "I would have loved to drive for Ferrari"
TG's Eddie Jordan talks past, present and future with the 2009 F1 World Champion
Eddie Jordan: Jenson, just a few questions on the eve of your last-ever race…
Jenson Button: Last ever F1 race. I’m taking a sabbatical, that’s what it says in the contract, but I was always going into this race thinking it was my last. If in six months I want to race, I’ve got the opportunity to race in 2018, but the reason I wanted to retire in the first place is that I didn’t want to race next year… but I’ve got the nice option if I do.
EJ: Let’s cast our minds back before you were in F1. Was there an icon, someone who really inspired you?
JB: I loved Alain Prost as a driver, he was my hero, but I was obviously very young when I watched him race. My inspiration was definitely Michael [Schumacher]. Actually being on the grid with him in 2000 was pretty awesome.
EJ: Has that changed in the past 16 years?
JB: My icon? It’s difficult. I’ve got a lot of respect for people in this sport. But I’d have to say my hero is still Alain Prost. I’ve spent a lot of time with Alain as well, cycling. And the first time I really drove an F1 car in anger, it was in his car. So, I’ve got a lot of great memories from that. I still want to sit down with him and ask why he retired. I don’t know the reason for that, because it seemed very early in his career.
EJ: Are you thinking of racing in any other forms of motorsport. IndyCars, NASCAR?
JB: Neither of them. Definitely rallycross, whether it’s in America or it’s the World Championship – one day I would love to race in that. Next year I’ll definitely race in rallycross in some form, and test the cars.
EJ: Le Mans?
JB: I’d love to do Le Mans. But it’s finding the right opportunities, the right drive and making sure I’m racing when the sport is in a good place. It’s sad that Audi’s left. That’s one competitor gone, which is very sad, and I don’t know how long Porsche is going to be around for either. So it’s a tricky one, I’d also like to race in Super GT, at Suzuka, which I’m going to do hopefully next year… and who knows what else.
EJ: Who do you think was your toughest competitor?
JB: You always look at your teammate. In qualifying, it’s probably Lewis. In a race situation, Fernando is the most difficult to beat… if you have a great race, Fernando is right on your ass, and you don’t know how he’s still there. And if he has a great race, he’s in front of you. It’s like he’s always there, you can’t get rid of him.
EJ: Was Canada your best-ever race?
JB: I think it’s the race I’ll be remembered for. But, not my best race because I made a lot of mistakes. Best race, probably Spa 2012 or Suzuka 2011.
EJ: And your worst?
JB: Last weekend in Brazil.
EJ: Which driver is your tip for glory?
JB: Ricky Bobby - Daniel Ricciardo. Max is an amazing talent, and he will, I’m sure, be fighting for the World Championship one day, but I love the way that Daniel Ricciardo has upped his game this year. He’s the older driver, more experienced driver, but he hasn’t cracked under pressure, and I really like that about him. And he’s a good guy as well.
EJ: Of the years, and even prior to the years that you’ve been racing, what is the era that you think has the most magic to it?
JB: For me, the Noughties. So 2004, 2005… the V10s. But also the downforce of the cars, the way they looked, the tyre war. That was awesome, I loved that, and the refuelling. I know it was dangerous, but it was fun.
EJ: Did you have a little chuckle to yourself when you passed Vettel in Canada?
JB: Yeah, not a little one, a big one. The best thing was, it was like eight corners to go, and it was so bloody wet, off line you were just s***ting yourself the whole way around, like AAAAAAAHHHHHH. I’m leading from last! A great day.
EJ: What do you think of Flavio Briatore?
JB: Is that an actual question? I drove for him in 2001/2002, he’s obviously a very good businessman, but we never got on while I was working with him. He pushed me really hard, and he said at the Monaco GP, he thought I was looking for an apartment rather than driving the car. Which I didn’t like, and it obviously didn’t help my attitude towards him. But to be fair, we get on much better now.
EJ: Bernie. Good guy or bad guy?
JB: Does anyone really know Bernie? It’s tricky, my Dad seemed to know Bernie really well, knew him from before F1, before I was born – back in the East London days. I’ve always got on really well with Bernie, he’s helped the sport immensely over the years. Whether you like him or not, he’s done a massive amount for this sport.
EJ: Other than the Brawn, which F1 car you did you enjoy driving the most?
JB: 2004 was a great car – the BAR Honda. The 2011 McLaren was awesome, with the blown diffuser. Such fun to drive.
EJ: Who’s the biggest numpty you’ve ever raced against?
JB: Biggest numpty? I’m not going to name any names. Thing is, in F1 there are a lot fewer numpties, but when you come through the ranks there’s a lot of numpties.
EJ: Are you nervous about retiring?
JB: First of all I’m not retiring from my racing. I’m probably going to retire from F1, but I’m going to race. I’m going to race until I’m 70, it’s just whether I get paid to do it or not.
EJ: When did you stop enjoying F1?
JB: I think that’s a difficult one to answer. Some races this year I haven’t enjoyed – Brazil I didn’t enjoy at all. But, for example, today I enjoyed. Tomorrow I’m hopefully going to enjoy, so it comes and goes. But in F1 you can’t have it coming and going it needs to be there all the time.
EJ: Stoffel Vandoorne – top man?
JB: Yeah I think so. He’s had all the schooling you can have coming into F1, he’s done very well in all the categories he’s raced, he’s won in everything he’s raced. But it’s always a lot more difficult when you’re a current F1 driver and you’ve got a contract to race for a team like McLaren. I think he’s confident in his ability, he’s got a job alongside Fernando I know that for certain. It’s the way F1 is, you’ve got to see what you’re made of from the word go.
EJ: You were by far a younger driver. As that seems to be the trend now, you set that trend. Is it harder for younger drivers coming in?
JB: No. It’s easier if you’ve got the talent. For me, I had no experience when I arrived in F1. I had no idea how to set a car up. One year in Formula Ford, one year in Formula Three, into F1. Didn’t have simulators then, nowhere near as much data. Now, drivers have hours and hours in the simulator, like Stroll’s got his own test team as far as I’ve heard. He’s done all the circuits on his own… in a two-year-old Williams. We had nothing like that back then, we were thrown in at the deep end and our engines kept blowing up at Williams. We did a lap and then it would blow up, so first race I didn’t even have a super-licence.
EJ: Is it possible to have any real friends in Formula One?
JB: Yeah I think it is. DC I’m good friends with, and Daniel Ricciardo. For me he’s the driver that I’m closest with of the new generation. But there are more and more young personalities coming out in the sport, which is great. Daniel Ricciardo is massive for F1. This sport needs someone like him, he’s a fun-loving guy, great personality, fun and you’ve got to have that. It’s too serious a sport, this.
EJ: Would you have driven for Ferrari, if the option came up?
JB: If it was the right situation, yeah of course, I would have loved to drive for Ferrari. Three teams that I wanted to drive for in F1 when I arrived, and they were Williams, Ferrari and McLaren, and I’ve driven for two of them. There was an opportunity at one point, but I thought this was the best place to be, and that was with Stefano as well.
EJ: In 2000 Jackie Stewart said that you were just a puppy. Have you anything to say to him?
JB: I can’t remember him saying. But I remember him saying he thought I was too young for the sport. I wasn’t too young, but I was too inexperienced. You know what, I’m here after 17 years. Still racing in F1.
EJ: Max Verstappen. Everyone seems to be talking about him. Is he a breath of fresh air for F1?
JB: I think he’s good for the sport. I think that he, along with Daniel Ricciardo, they’re both great for the sport. They’re guys that will be fighting at the front in the future. They have a lot of talent, and hopefully a long career in the sport.
EJ: You’ve won Monaco. Given the opportunity and competitive machinery, would you attempt to achieve the triple crown?
JB: I’d love to win Le Mans. I’d love just to be a part of Le Mans, such a lovely team atmosphere from what I’ve seen. IndyCar though, not for me.
Eddie Jordan will be back in the next series of Top Gear on BBC Two and will be covering Formula One on Channel Four next year.