Exclusive interview - Honda's Jenson Button 23 May 2006
When he first stepped onto the Formula One stage Jenson Button was immediately tagged a future world champion, but five years on and the top step of the podium still eludes him. He is nevertheless considered one of the worlds best drivers - just one still waiting for the machinery to match his ability. Button is convinced Honda can deliver that machinery, even if he refuses to make any rash predictions for this weekends Monaco race. We caught up with him to discuss his season to date
Q: Now that BAR has transformed into Honda is there greater pressure to be successful?
Jenson Button: There has always been pressure to be successful at this team. The pressure comes from within the team though, because we all want to win. It was a fantastic moment when we achieved pole in Australia this year - Honda's first pole as a works team since 1968 - and for sure the first win of Honda's third generation is the moment we are all working so hard towards. We have a fundamentally good car this year, and that is the result of making the best use of the fantastic resources that we have in the UK and in Japan.
Q: What difference has Rubens Barrichello joining the team made?
JB: Rubens brings a lot of experience from a world championship-winning team, no question. We work hard together to develop the team and the car. A lot has been made of Rubens difficulties in the first few races but he has been able to provide us with some new insights and with my experience with the team already I think we are working well together.
Q: Has the lack of results have been down to anything specific or more a combination of factors?
JB: As I said I think we have a fundamentally good car, but we haven't got the results we expect for a number of reasons. Our qualifying pace has been very good but if you look at Bahrain, the clutch problem on the grid lost us a lot of time, which made the difference between fourth place and a podium. We did better in Malaysia and got our first podium of the year, then in Australia we struggled with our tyre warming problems as a result of the four safety car outings and an engine failure preventing me from finishing the race. Imola was another tough race because of the problems in the pits. But we see the curve going up - no doubt. The first six races have shown that we are in the fight but there is a lot of work to do to get us to the top step and this is mainly about tackling the issues which have compromised our race performances. Do I think this team has what it takes? Absolutely!
Q: Obviously you cant be satisfied with how things have gone so far, but Monaco could be a new chapter in the story of the 2006 season. Do you have high hopes for Monte Carlo?
JB: I'm not going to talk it up too much. I look forward to the race. I always have. It's such a challenging circuit and there is no room for error. I'm looking forward to the weekend and hopefully we can get a good result.
Q: In a quiet moment when reflecting on your career, does the thought occur to you that staying with Renault could have made you world champion?
JB: Yeah it could have, but that didn't happen so it's not really worth contemplating. Things are always changing in Formula One. Teams are going to have good years and difficult years. Renault had some very poor years but have become strong as have McLaren and Ferrari and I think its going to be the same case for us. We are a strong team, and success will come our way - it's just a matter of time.
Q: After having jumped to second place in the constructors championship in 2004, the team have come down to earth with a bump this season. What do you expect for this year?
JB: We've been disappointed with the race results so far this year for sure; we hoped to be in a position to win from the first race. Despite what people say though, we have not recalibrated our expectations and set our targets much lower. We 'expect' to go to every race to win and, if anything, we are all much more focused on that target than ever before. We are only six races into the season. We want to win soon and I believe that is possible, but we don't have the 'win at all costs' approach that some people say. We are looking at the big picture and that involves not just winning once but going on to win consistently.
Q: In your five years in Formula One racing, you have spent time with three different teams, one Anglo-German (Williams BMW), one French (Renault) and one Anglo-Japanese (Honda, formerly BAR). What were the differences in how searched for success?
JB: Fundamentally they all want to win and that's true of any team in F1, regardless of nationality. However, Honda's commitment to racing has been constant throughout its history. Racing is in the company's DNA and you can see that racing spirit throughout every part of its operation. You only have to look at all its motorsport activities.
Q: You have successfully maintained your market value despite your infrequent podium appearances of late. Is this because you are the most visible British driver? What is the secret of your success?
JB: I think I'm doing a very good job and playing my part in this team's push for victory. To win, everything has to come together at the right time - this is a team sport. Fundamentally I am working as hard as I possibly can - in testing, in the races and in ensuring that I am in the peak of physical and mental condition to play my part.
Q: Your man about town image was arguably a perfect platform for the team's title sponsor. Must we expect a change in the future?
JB: The racing calendar and related activities like testing and marketing work mean that there is hardly any time for me to be the party animal I am often portrayed as! The only image I work hard at cultivating is the real me and that's someone who spends pretty much every waking moment focusing on what it takes to win races.