Exclusive Jenson Button Q&A: McLaren will bounce back 18 Jun 2013
2013 has proved a difficult year so far for Jenson Button. The 33-year-old Englishman - who, with 235 Grand Prix starts behind him, is the most experienced driver on the grid - could rightly have expected to challenge for the world title this season given McLarens form at the tail-end of 2012.
But instead of competing for race wins, Button and team mate Sergio Perez have faced a battle to even score points. In this exclusive interview the 2009 world champion explains why hes confident that McLaren wont be down for long
Q: Your 2013 season hasnt started well, but we all know that McLaren is a team that has the capability to turn it around. The big question then is: when will that be? Whats your best guess?
Jenson Button: Clearly, wed hoped for more success this season, especially after last season, during which we won seven Grands Prix, including two of the last three. But, as you say, McLaren has been a great team ever since Bruce McLaren founded it 50 years ago, and it remains a great team today. In fact, since McLaren entered Formula 1 in 1966, its won 182 Grands Prix - a post-1966 total that Ferrari only equalled when Fernando [Alonso] won in Spain this year.
Moreover, McLaren has won one in four Grands Prix its entered since 1966, and at least one of its drivers has been on the podium in more than 50% of Grands Prix during that time. Oh, and McLaren has won 20 world championships, too, by the way. Thats a magnificent record, isnt it! So, going forward, as I say, wed hoped for more this season, but I firmly believe that therell be good seasons ahead for us. Next season will be something of an interim season for us, obviously, since itll be our last season with Mercedes-Benz, but from 2015 onwards McLaren will once again become a full works team with official Honda backing and everything that goes with that, and everyones understandably very excited about that. I think you have to be a full works team to have a serious chance of achieving sustained success in Formula 1 these days.
Q: So far so good, but prior to the start of the season, did you have hopes that McLaren would be a real world championship contender this season - and, if so, at what stage did you abandon those hopes?
JB: If you win the last Grand Prix of any season, inevitably you spend the following winter in a state of cautious optimism. Well, in Brazil we won the last Grand Prix of 2012 - in fact we won two of the last three Grands Prix of 2012 - so, yes, I dont mind admitting that I was cautiously optimistic over the Christmas and New Year period of 2012/2013. The 2013 season has therefore been disappointing, obviously it has, but history shows us just how good McLaren is and I know well bounce back. We always do. So, do I think we can still win the world championships this season? It would be naive of me to say yes, so Im not about to do so. I think that became pretty clear in Canada.
Q: How disappointing was McLarens performance in Montreal?
JB: Obviously, since McLaren had scored points in the previous 64 consecutive Grands Prix - in fact in every Grand Prix since I joined the team in 2010 - to fail to score points in Montreal was pretty disappointing. But, in truth, merely scoring points isnt what McLaren is all about - and neither is it what Im all about. I won the world championship for Brawn in 2009 - and although I havent yet won the world championship for McLaren, I won eight Grands Prix for McLaren in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and I stood on 25 podiums in that time too, which I'm very proud of.
Having said that, our prior successes make our current disappointments a bit harder to bear. For example, to return to your question, prior to this years Canadian Grand Prix, McLaren had won the past three Canadian Grands Prix - in 2010, 2011 and 2012 - and Id have to classify my 2011 Canadian Grand Prix victory for McLaren as one of the greatest of my career. So, yes, all in all, the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix was pretty disappointing.
Q: Does it make sense for a team that isnt fighting for this years world championships to go on putting resources to its 2013 development programmes when in 2014 everything will be so different?
JB: As always, car-development is a question of balancing available resources - but, to be honest, thats something that all Formula 1 teams do every year, and this year isnt so different. So at McLaren were managing that balance at the moment, as all the teams are, but inevitably our focus will begin to switch more and more towards 2014 in due course.
Q: Do you fear that before Hondas arrival in 2015, McLaren may slip out of the top echelon of Formula One teams, as Williams has done? That a glorious past doesnt prevent from a rocky future?
JB: Its not appropriate for me to try to talk about what's happened at Williams. For me, though, theres no doubt that McLaren remains in the top echelon of Formula 1 teams. Ive been in Formula 1 for 13 years, as I say, and Ive seen a lot in that time. Ive never driven for a better team than McLaren, and Im very proud to be a McLaren driver - following in the wheel tracks of great drivers like Bruce himself, Emerson (Fittipaldi), James (Hunt), Niki (Lauda), Alain (Prost), Ayrton (Senna) and Mika (Hakkinen). And, as I say, McLaren always bounces back, you know.
For example, in 2009, the year in which I won my world championship for Brawn, McLaren was pretty uncompetitive at the start of the season. In Melbourne, the first race of the season, McLarens two cars qualified 14th (Heikki Kovalainen) and 15th (Lewis Hamilton), but by the time we all got to Hungary the McLaren was good enough for Lewis to win in it from pole position. Equally McLaren has often followed an uncompetitive year with a very competitive year. In 2004, McLaren won only one Grand Prix, but it won 10 Grands Prix in 2005, in 2006 McLaren won no Grands Prix, but it won eight Grands Prix in 2007. So I think history shows us that McLaren will win again, well and often, and, as I say, I reckon the next McLaren-Honda era could be very exciting indeed.
Q: How do you cope with the imponderability of your career at the moment? For instance, will you still be driving for McLaren in 2015 when the next McLaren-Honda era begins?
JB: Ive had a great career. Ive won 15 Grands Prix and one world championship. I intend to do quite a bit more winning in the future. As to how many years that future may reach forwards to, I havent decided yet. Wait and see. (laughs)
Q: Are you confident that, going forward into the future, Martin (Whitmarsh) is the right team principal for McLaren?
JB: Martin is a great guy. Hes been involved in more than 100 Grand Prix victories since he joined McLaren in 1989, and hes therefore got a massive amount of expertise and experience. Hes hugely motivated to turn things around, and, together with Jonathan (Neale), Sam (Michael), and Tim (Goss), as well as a large number of very capable senior engineers, theres real strength in depth there.
Q: Does Ron (Dennis) interfere in F1 operations at all? For so many years he was a synonym for the McLaren team
JB: Ron is a legend of Formula One history, and any Formula One team would be proud to have him as its chairman. And thats what Ron is: the chairman. Whenever I chat with him these days, he seems to be very busy with McLaren Automotive, so he doesnt have much hands-on involvement in McLarens racing activities these days. But hes got more than 40 years experience in Formula One, and hell always be passionate about motor racing, so of course he keeps himself well informed. But he doesnt interfere, no, because he doesnt need to.
Q: For three seasons, from 2010 to 2012, you and Lewis appeared to be the dream driver line-up of every Formula One team principal. Now, by contrast, you have a youngster alongside you, Checo (Sergio Perez), and hes yet to find his place in the pecking order, if I can put it that way. Is that a bit of a strain on you?
JB: Checo is a very nice lad. Maybe hes a bit too forceful sometimes, by his own admission, but hes undoubtedly quick, and hes still learning because you never stop learning in this game. And, yes, as you say, hes trying to make his mark - but I think thats how it should be. Your team mate is never going to be your best friend, because people will always compare your performance with his and inevitably you want to emerge positively from that comparison, but Checo and I get on well - and that is more than you can say about some team mate relationships these days! (laughs)
Having said that, at the moment were both a bit disappointed about the performance of our car. If it were a bit more competitive, I guess life would be a little easier for us both.
Q: Staying on the subject of team-mates, but going back to Lewis, when the Formula One community learned that hed signed with Mercedes, many people feared hed made a big mistake. Now though, very few people think that way. What about you? Do you feel a spark of envy for your former team mate when you see him qualifying and racing at the front this year?
JB: Formula One is cyclical. You cant win all the time. My career has proved that, as has that of almost every world champion in Formula 1 history. Last season McLaren won seven Grands Prix while Mercedes won only one. This year, by contrast, Mercedes has won a Grand Prix whereas so far McLaren hasnt. But you cant make predictions based on less than half a seasons racing - Ive been around too long to make that mistake. McLaren is - and remains - a great team, and the improvement will come. As to when itll come, I cant say
Q: The next Grand Prix is at Silverstone. Youve never found yourself at the wheel of a winning car for your home Grand Prix - not even in 2009, the year you won the world championship for the Brawn team. How likely is it that, against all odds, you could finally taste victory at home this year?
JB: The Silverstone fans are the best in the world, and Id love to give them something to cheer about this year. Ive never won my home Grand Prix, as you say, but Id absolutely love to do so one day. Sadly, though, Im sorry to say that I dont expect to do so this season. Well be moving heaven and earth to get a decent result though, you can be well sure of that!
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