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In Conversation - Bernie Ecclestone and Jenson Button 04 Nov 2009

FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone is interviewed with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009 © Oliver Reck FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone is interviewed with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009 © Oliver Reck FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone is interviewed with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009 © Oliver Reck FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone is interviewed with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009 © Oliver Reck FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone is interviewed with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009 © Oliver Reck

After being hailed as a future champion on his F1 debut in 2000, it took ten attempts before Jenson Button finally won his maiden title at October’s Brazilian Grand Prix. But having the stamina to hold on to hope in the face of adversity is just as worthy as succeeding from the start - or so Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes. ‘Big boss’ Ecclestone, as Button calls him, and the newly-crowned world champion reminisce about when they first met, reflect on the past season and discuss why Button is worthy of that prestigious number one…

Jenson Button: Hello big boss!

Q: Why do you call Bernie the ‘big boss’?
JB:
Because he is.

Q: Bernie, what did you whisper in Jenson’s ear after he won the title in Sao Paolo?
Bernie Ecclestone:
I asked him why he was so insensitive by finishing the job in Brazil and not waiting for the last race in Abu Dhabi like I wanted.
JB: (laughs) We could have called the last race the ‘World Cup’. Then in addition to the world champion you would have had a world cup winner.
BE: Sure. Then you could jump on the gravy train a second time.
JB: Exactly!

Q: Jenson, do you remember the first time you met Bernie?
BE:
That was when he still was in his swaddling clothes…
JB: Not exactly. I was in Formula Ford. It was in 1998 and I desperately wanted a Formula One paddock pass. I’d watched F1 for 12 years on television and I wanted to see it live.

Q: Did you give him a pass?
BE:
Obviously I had no choice after they sold him to me as the future world champion!
JB: For my dad and myself, being in the paddock for the first time was an extraordinary experience, especially because we met Nico Rosberg and his dad. My dad was a huge fan of Keke. Nico was a little boy then, clinging to his dad’s legs all the time. I am very thankful to Bernie and Frank (Williams) because they gave me the chance to drive in F1 in 2000.

Q: Speaking of Nico Rosberg, will you see him more often next year? Perhaps as a team mate?
JB:
How many races will we have next season? 19? Then I will see him 19 times.

Q: Bernie, will we see Jenson in a Brawn next year? At the moment he is gambling on a substantial rise in his salary…
BE:
He is here. Ask him.
JB: I am discussing the subject with Ross (Brawn). We wanted to get the championship decided first. There is no hurry, believe me. My goal for 2010 is to sit in the best car that I can lay my hands on.
BE: That’s exactly what he should try for.

Q: Bernie, do you think Nico Rosberg and Jenson would make good team mates?
BE:
Yes, because they would support each other.
JB: A team mate must be two things. He must put you under pressure and he must be willing to bring the team forward together. That was the case this year with Rubens (Barrichello) and me. What was also important was that we both learnt a lot together when we both had a really bad car.

Q: Bernie, who from a sporting and marketing perspective would have been the best champion for you? And what do you expect from Jenson?
BE:
First of all he should stay as he is. He’s very natural and laidback. There is no need to act. And he has to have the ambition to defend his title. Nobody expects him to go for an Oscar, but he has to understand that as champion he has an obligation towards the public. Some of his predecessors have ignored that. Jenson is the perfect champ, even though he fell into some sort of deep sleep during the midseason.
JB: Wasn’t that exactly what you told me to do, to keep the championship sizzling? But seriously, over 17 races you experience some ups and downs. Even a seven-time champion had it. Remember Suzuka in 2003? Michael (Schumacher) needed only one point to win the championship and he had real trouble doing it. That shows how big the pressure is. The last couple of months were pretty tough for me, especially when the car lacked performance. Then I made some mistakes and the team did as well. But we didn’t cave in and delivered a strong race in Brazil - the perfect way to win the championship!
BE: Everybody has some rainy days once in a while. All that matters is to make the most out of them. That is what Jenson did.

Q: Jenson, will you now marry your girlfriend?
JB:
Ah, nothing of what was printed in the papers is true. If I had said at the beginning of the season that should I become world champion I would propose to her, it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But it should be a surprise.
BE: Note, he didn’t just say that he will not marry - all he said is that the quotes were wrong.

Q: Would you encourage him to marry?
BE:
You’re asking the wrong guy.

Q: Do you believe in fairytales?
BE:
Not really. I create them. But let’s be serious. The Brawn story has a touch of magic. We must never forget that at the end of last season the team was dead, and to then bounce back and win both titles - that comes close to being a miracle.
JB: You know, this season saw some scandals and negative stories, but on track it was fantastic to witness a small private team taking it on with the big players. That will go down in F1 history.

Q: How was that possible? What’s the view from inside the team?
JB:
We profited a lot from Honda. They supported us even after their withdrawal. We are very thankful for that. And of course we can’t forget the help of Mercedes-Benz. Without them I wouldn’t be world champion.
BE: And that help only happened because nobody imagined that Brawn could win.

Q: Would you have bet on Jenson becoming champion before this season?
BE:
Forget it. I wouldn’t even have bet on them being on the grid at the first race.
JB: That was really nail biting. We knew if we made it to the grid we would have a great season. True, there was no thought of winning races or even both championships, but we knew we had a good car.

Q: Did you realize the potential at the first test?
JB:
Oh yes! I was six-tenths faster than everybody else. They had tested already for three months and I drove out the pits, did six laps and was fastest. And we didn’t experience any reliability problems.
BE: All true, and still after the first test nobody would have bet a dime on Brawn. Everybody thought that you were driving on low fuel to attract sponsors.
JB: And whatever we would have said nobody would have believed us…

Q: And what now? It seems Mercedes wants to get involved with Brawn …
JB:
That’s a question for Ross to answer. We don’t know what will happen next season. All I know is that we should cherish the moment.

Q: Obviously Jenson is happy about the season. What about you, Bernie?
BE:
I would have preferred to be in Jenson’s position.

Q: Can you understand Sebastian Vettel’s disappointment after seeing the championship slip through his fingers?
BE:
Yes, because he had done a good job and he knew it.
JB: I can understand, too. We are all so hooked on wins and success, and you get frustrated when it doesn’t happen.
BE: Sebastian still has a lot of time to win the title. He just has to look ahead.

Q: Jenson, who do you think will be your biggest challenger next season?
JB:
Ferrari and McLaren will bounce back. Red Bull and Brawn will stay strong. The fight will get tougher. A perfect scenario for Formula One.
BE: Who knows what will happen? That’s what makes the suspense. Nobody would have guessed that Brawn and Red Bull would be the teams fighting for the championship. My prediction is that teams will be even closer together as the only new rule is the refuelling ban.

Q: Bernie, there have now been two British champions in a row. What is the biggest difference between Lewis (Hamilton) and Jenson for you?
BE:
Lewis is much younger. Jenson has a little less time before he’s going to get a pension. (laughs)
JB: Nice to hear.
BE: Jenson had a much bigger mountain to climb than Lewis. Lewis came into Formula One racing a car with the potential to win.
JB: Yes, our route to the title definitely was different.

Q: Jenson, looking back at the rollercoaster nature of your career, did you ever give up on your hopes of winning the title?
JB:
All of us believe it until the moment you walk out of the paddock. Only over the winter did I have a bit of a doubt, but only for one day. Formula One drivers have to think positively. Negative thoughts don’t help.
BE: Because they never know what awaits them around the next corner.