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Jenson Button: "Racing drivers aren't cool. We’re just not..."
McLaren driver speaks out on a tough 2015, Pamela Anderson and Bart Simpson
Jenson Button radiates self-belief, positivity and good vibes. It would actually be rather annoying if he wasn’t such a thoroughly decent bloke.
JB will start his 285th GP and his 17th season in F1 by the time the Australian GP rolls round on March 20 next year, and he’s confident of an upturn in team fortunes.
Having come close to retiring from F1, he opted to continue with McLaren in 2016, as the team rewards his vast experience in preference to mega-fast GP2 star and reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne. No-one in F1 would begrudge Jenson a couple more victories if 2016 turns out to be his final season.
Top Gear sits beside him as he hurls a 650S around one of the car parks alongside Wembley Stadium. Button, you sense, must have a number of other things he could be doing, but the 2009 F1 world champion still plays the game like a true pro.
His media skills are now as silky as his driving, and in a sport constrained by omni-present PR wranglers, JB walks the line perfectly. He does a nice line in self-deprecatory humour, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. But the desire to win burns as fiercely as ever…
TG: So, that was 2015… Need we ask how it was?
JB: This season has been very testing. I have the experience of winning a world championship and have won races for McLaren, so I’ve been through good times with the team.
[Now] I’ve got a team-mate who has been regarded as the best driver in F1 for many years, and that’s a challenge. It doesn’t matter where we are on the grid, I’ve got him to race – if we’re both racing. That’s kept me going through the year, and seeing the improvements with the power unit.
I spend a lot of time at the factory with the aerodynamicists and the engineers, and they really listen. A lot of the progress we’re making is because of our feedback.
It’s great to have that impact, it’s why we’re in the team and why the team wants us there. With two inexperienced drivers they wouldn’t have moved forward.
TG: Are you not just massively relieved to see the back of that season?
JB: I’m upset it’s over, I really am. I had a great race in Abu Dhabi, I only finished 12th, but I really enjoyed it.
And scarily I was thinking of retiring at the end of this year. I am so relieved I didn’t do it. So relieved.
Next year is going to be really exciting. People say, ‘You’re going to do it all again, the same thing?’ Well, first of all it’s not your normal job. I drive an 800bhp monster and I’m supposed to tame it, which is pretty exciting.
But also the way things are going, well, I don’t think we’ll surprise people because they expect us to be competitive, and we’re not going to win races, but I think we have a chance of getting podiums and being in the mix.
So you never know what’s going to happen.
TG: We’re hearing next year’s McLaren-Honda might be up to two seconds per lap faster than the ’15 car?
JB: I think that’s possible. There are certain things that bring a massive amount of lap time that are sorted for next year already, stuff you can’t simply bolt on during the season. It’s looking very positive.
TG: Lots of racing drivers actually don’t care about road cars, but you’ve always been a big petrolhead, haven’t you?
JB: I love my P1, and it’s been fun seeing the comparisons with the Porsche and Ferrari. It’s a great time for supercars.
Actually, there are more F1 drivers now who are collecting cars, cars that really mean something from childhood. I had Pamela Anderson on my bedroom wall, Bart Simpson and a Ferrari F40. I can’t own Pamela Anderson, obviously Bart’s a cartoon so I can still watch him but I can’t own him – he hasn’t aged at all, can you believe the difference between him and Pamela? – but I do have an F40.
In fact, I was in a pre-race press conference at a race the other day with Sebastian and Felipe, who both have an F40. So we’re all sat there discussing our F40s, and what a mad car it is. It’s a scary bit of kit, but there aren’t many cars that come close.
TG: Are there any drivers you’re inspired by?
JB: Racing drivers aren’t cool. We’re just not.
Apart from Stirling [Moss]. He’s cool. He’s a great guy, he sends me lots of emails with ideas about my future, makes a lot of sense. He’s very supportive. What does he say? [deadly serious] I can’t tell you. It’s private…