Exclusive interview - Button on Lewis, Ferrari & life after F1 27 Oct 2011
With the world championship gone, McLarens Jenson Button isnt that bothered about P2 in the standings per se. But if it means hes beaten the likes of Alonso, Webber and Hamilton, hell gratefully accept the runners-up spot. His focus now is race wins and carrying strong form into 2012. Ahead of this weekends 2011 Formula 1 Airtel Grand Prix of India, Button chats to Formula1.com about his new McLaren contract, his future in F1, and what he plans to do when he finally quits the sport
Q: Jenson, you might end up as 2011s runner-up. Does that famous Ron Dennis saying that second place simply makes you the first loser hold any significance for you?
Jenson Button: No, not really. If I hadnt won the championship maybe, but now, no. I was third back in 2004 and obviously won the championship in 2009, so finishing second doesnt mean so much. But the aim for the rest of the season is winning races. That is the most important thing, because we love winning races as it means that I am outperforming all the other guys I am racing with. Obviously Sebastian (Vettel) is too far in front, but the rest - Mark (Webber), Fernando (Alonso) and Lewis (Hamilton) - if I can outscore these guys at the end of the season it means Id be second. That is good. But the actual number two doesnt excite me - only that I have beaten all those guys Ive just mentioned - thats exciting!
Q: How would you sum up 2011 on your personal scale of good and bad years?
JB: I think its been a pretty good year. Ive been happy with most of my performances. Of course there are some performances you could have done without, but on the whole this season has been a good year for me. Still Im not happy with where we are going to finish, but I feel that Ive done a good job with the team as weve grown very much together. I would say that most of the time Ive got the maximum out of the car - so yes, its a good base for 2012.
Q: You signed a multi-year contract with McLaren recently - and you may well end you career there. But there were also been rumours that you were looking around. Was that the case - and if so what stopped your wandering eye?
JB: Ha! (laughs) I think it was knowing what I have here. It is a very good environment here and I feel very much at home - already after one and a half years. I have a fantastic team around me - and that is key to performing well and fighting for a championship. But it is also that I know that we can build so much more than what we have - and that everything is going in the right direction. A lot of the time in my career I have been in a team where I felt that there was no direction - and as soon as they got direction you could see things moving forward - like at Honda when Ross Brawn joined and the team suddenly had direction. That is so important if you want to succeed in Formula One. So yes, I am happy where I am because this is a team that will always fight for the world championship and whether they do or not is down to us - including me - but they give me the opportunity to fight for it.
Q: Can you give us a hint of where else you were looking at?
JB: No, but you always ask questions and try to find information about other teams. But this is definitely the best place for me.
Q: When you look back two years - when it dawned on you that you would not stay with Ross Brawns team - how happy are you now about how its turned out?
JB: Well, first of all it is never an easy decision to make when youve just won the world championship to leave that team - especially when you have been with that team for so long. It was our goal to win the championship and we had fought for that dream for six years - and finally we won it. So wed fulfilled our goal and I was looking for another challenge - to race with another team alongside a very competitive team mate, but also to race for a team that has won multiple titles. That idea was very exciting for me. There were three teams when I was growing up: one was McLaren, one was Ferrari and one was Williams. And McLaren is the one that gave me the best opportunity for the future.
Q: So one - Ferrari - is still missing from your CV
JB: True - but you cant have everything in life! (laughs) A team name can be exciting, and what theyve achieved, but you always have to be in the right environment and the right situation for your personal needs - and I definitely have found that for me here!
Q: People predicted you would have a hard time coming into McLaren, where long-term protege Lewis Hamilton had seen off Fernando Alonso. But youd been in a similar situation before with Jacques Villeneuve at BAR and sure enough, again you have quietly got under your team mates skin. How do you do that, killing so softly?
JB: (Laughs) No, thats not really the case with Lewis. He is very competitive and a very tough team mate to finish in front of - but that is why I love the challenge to be here. I love having a team mate who is difficult to beat, because this is Formula One. Actually we work together very well. But we also want to beat each other and I am loving that challenge. Hopefully it will continue for many years.
Q: Friendship among drivers is hard to find these days. Whats it like at the drivers parade - all of you together on the back of that truck? How much friction is there? Do some drivers ignore others?
JB: Well, away from the circuit I dont really hang out with other drivers - or very rarely. I went with Mark Webber to a baseball game in Japan, but that was the only thing that Ive done with another driver privately in a long time. When were on the drivers parade lap we all have lots in common - racing the same circuit, having similar experiences - so we have lots to talk about. We are basically talking about the other drivers - bitching. (laughs) That also happens among guys!
Q: You waited a pretty long time for your success in Formula One. Nico Rosberg, your successor at Ross Brawns team, is now in the same situation you were a few years ago. Do you have any advice for him?
JB: Well, I think that Nico has got enough confidence to go around the whole paddock, so I dont think he needs to worry about confidence in his own ability. Basically he is with a good team and I am sure he will be fighting for victories and more podiums in the future. And when I think back, I had some pretty good years with Honda. 2004 was great, 2005 was very difficult, but then in 2006 I won a race with them and multiple podiums. Then came another two difficult years, until in 2009 we hit the jackpot. So there have been sour times, yes, but that builds you as a person. Probably I had a bigger portion than others in that respect. (laughs)
Q: Mark Webber recently said that retirement is overrated. What do you think? How long do you see yourself in a race car - and what back-up plan is there for life outside racing?
JB: When I won the world championship and my contract was done I definitely felt that I could also finish my career. But now, two years further down the line, I dont feel that this contract will be my last one. Ive seen so many drivers finishing their careers earlier than they should have and regretting it dearly, so we have all that experience to look at. Fact is that I am doing something I love and something that I am good at and not a lot of people get that opportunity. After F1 I could imagine looking after younger drivers. A driver who has gone through some good and hard times could really help younger drivers to achieve their dream. Not just teach them how to be fast, but how to work with engineers and the rest of the team for the benefit of both ends. There are so many things drivers have to take in - nutrition, training regime, all that - and it is probably hard to listen to a manager who has never raced, so these are assets that I bring to the table. So that would interest me. On a personal level I would like to take part in the iron man world championship triathlon and race in another category - maybe DTM or something else. I definitely want to be racing beyond my F1 career.
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