Jenson Button: 'I'm definitely not ready to give up just yet'
Despite frustrations with his car, Jenson Button is as excited about racing as he was 13 years ago when his F1 career began
Sunday 24 March 2013
Look!" Jenson Button cries, parading himself in the McLaren hospitality unit with his Vodafone shirt opened to reveal his torso. "I'm a director of the GPDA!" It's 6.30 in the evening of another sweltering day, and McLaren's air-conditioning is losing the battle against the humidity that has already caused him to break the rules and conduct an interview without his sponsor's cap on. His audience – team principal Martin Whitmarsh's wife Deborah, father John, girlfriend Jessica Michibata and trainer Mike Collier – lap up the joke.
Button has become a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, replacing Felipe Massa, but if it is frustrating him that the performance of the McLaren MP4-28, on which his hopes of a second World Championship rest, has been disappointing, he is doing an excellent job of concealing it. That's why the team have such regard for him. Button doesn't throw his toys out of the pram.
McLaren opted for a bold design in the hope of generating greater development potential as the season progresses, and though it works better here on a smooth track, it could be some time before the car is fully competitive.
Button, who competed in the Malaysian Grand Prix this morning, is beginning to explain how he's coping when he spots names in a support race. "I love that guy in second place!" he exclaims, pointing to the splendidly titled F Yu. "I've been around long enough to know you can't always have a good car," he resumes. "So you all work hard to improve it. McLaren won't be finishing just inside the points for long. You give as much feedback as you can and try to direct the team as much as you can.
"There are 700 people in Woking working flat out, producing a car that isn't yet quick enough. That's tough for them, so we've got to keep them positive so they can keep making improvements."
Button is now an elder statesman, hence his new role as a key figure with the GPDA. And though he might play it down, his calm leadership is crucial to McLaren, and he chuckles at the idea that he has reached 33 after starting in F1 at the tender age of 20.
"It's crazy, isn't it? But I don't think about age. I don't feel any older in terms of my reactions, and my fitness is definitely not an issue. I still love competing. I still feel positive that we can fight back and win grands prix. I'm definitely not ready to give up. And I still feel like a kid when I jump into the car."
He is comfortable with his place in the McLaren team and does not give much thought to his former team-mate Lewis Hamilton, now with Mercedes. "I don't feel more or less pressure now he's gone," he says, with ever such a slight edge.
"If Lewis is here, Lewis is here, and if he's not, he's not. It's not going to make any difference to my season. He is extremely quick. That's what I think of Lewis. I've been asked enough about him. I'm bored of answering questions about him."
Button is happy to focus on his own performances and says he does not think of specific people he must beat to prove himself. "I just think of going as quick as I can in the car I have," he says. "What's the point of thinking about beating this guy or that guy? What makes a difference is working your arse off and getting the best out of what equipment you have. It doesn't matter what your competition is.
"I don't play mind games. I'm very straightforward. Checo [his new team-mate, Sergio Perez] is very good like that. We both said that if we have an issue with each other, we would discuss it face to face, and get over it. Not do it through the media, which is the worst you could do."
Right now his mission is helping McLaren to recover, and it is clear that for all the disappointments with the car, Button still adores racing. "We race each other and know who's good and who's not so good," he says. "We just love it because we are racing the best drivers in the world. When we make a move on someone at the front it means so much to us. Obviously you respect some more than others, but there are a lot of drivers that I respect, that I love to race against and to beat."
These days the risks to drivers are far more contained, and that is something he thinks little about. "I think there are dangers everywhere in the world. And at least the danger in F1 is in a controlled environment. You know where the limits are and how far you can push yourself. You have trust and belief in the others guys you are racing out there. It's something I've done since I was eight years old. When I retire I will miss that competitiveness and racing against the best drivers in the world. It's a massive buzz. You are always learning and improving. I don't think I'm the best but you should always strive to be the best."
Vettel takes pole
Sebastian Vettel took another dramatic pole for Red Bull in the closing moments of a wet final qualifying yesterday, snatching the honour from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who was bumped down to third place by team-mate Felipe Massa. Melbourne winner Kimi Raikkonen received a three-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg during final qualifying.
It's rare for drivers to be genuine friends. Team-mates need to get on, but the guy alongside you in the garage in the same car is also the first competitor you have to beat.
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were never bosom buddies. "I feel that Lewis and I were pretty open," Button says. "That's something I've always wanted with team-mates. Rubens [Barrichello] and I were the same. He said let's be very open and say what we think to each other's faces. But Lewis and I had breakfast together in Australia, which is something we never used to do when we were team-mates here at McLaren.
"The only driver I hang out with is Paul Di Resta, and that's because we've got something in common away from motorsport. There's no reason to be close friends with anyone in the paddock if you don't have that." And he added with a perfectly straight face: "Paul and I both like haggis, and we both wear skirts…" Actually, they train together a lot around Monaco, and just happen to share the same management, Button's own company, Sports Marketing.
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