Jensen Button on race cars, fashion and film

  • People
  • Monday, 31 Mar 2014

We spoke to the Formula One driver when he was down for the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix.

HE is one of the most respected drivers in the world of Formula One. And as 2014 marks Jenson Button’s 14th year on the circuit, the 34-year-old McLaren-Mercedes driver still feels like it’s his first time whenever he gets behind the wheel of an F1 racecar, giving him goose bumps.

Like most F1 drivers, Button got his first taste of racing at a karting track. At 18, he graduated from karts to cars and went on to make his F1 debut two years later at the Australian Grand Prix with the Williams-BMW F1 team, making him one of the youngest drivers to start an F1 race.

In 2006, Button won his first race at the Hungarian Grand Prix, but it was in 2009 that the Briton finally achieved his boyhood dream when he became Formula One World Champion.

Securing third place at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix last month, Button is off to a great season (although he registered a lowly sixth position at the Malaysian Grand Prix over the weekend). And during a quick chat with Button, the 15-time Grand Prix winner hinted that this season would be more interesting and fun, thanks to the new F1 regulations.

What do you feel about the new rules?

The engines are smaller than most people’s road cars but because it has the Energy Recovery System (ERS), it produces 830 horsepower, which is a lot for a 1.6 litre engine. With the old engines, you have to really rev them to get power whereas now, there’s always power wherever you are, which is great, but very difficult to control. And then there’s trying to keep everything at the right temperature, especially with the humidity and the heat here. But the only negative I would say is that the cars don’t sound as good any more. Before, there was this high-pitched noise and even for me, after racing for 14 years, it still gives me goose bumps. It was just such a nice sound.

Would you say that the new guidelines have made things more challenging?

It has made the sport more fun, I think. And it’s good that from the fans’ point of view, they haven’t got a clue who’s going to win the next race. It’s very up in the air and I think that’s what this sport needed in a way.

With the new hybrid turbo engine in your car that is more difficult to work on, what’s McLaren’s strategy for this season?

At this point in the season, reliability is very important. This is the real test for everyone because of the heat here. Our car is pretty quick, we’re not the quickest but I think the progress that I’ve already seen with the team is very good. And with McLaren group CEO Ron Dennis back in charge, it keeps everyone on their toes because he’s a strong character. He built this team since the 80s and won multiple world championships. So, the mechanics love that (he’s back) because they think that Ron brings that fighting spirit back to the team. And I think he does. And he seems like he has lost 20 years after being CEO again because he’s so excited about the challenge of wanting to win. It’s a really good thing for the team.

As the face of Hugo Boss, you’ve probably tried on a lot of their suits. What is it about them that you like?

The fit, even off-the-peg suits, fit me pretty well because of my height and size. I’m really into three-piece suits at the moment, being British (laughs). I don’t like anything too outrageous, like bright coloured suits. I think more simple colours like blacks, greys and blues and having them just really fitted makes a big difference.

How would you describe your personal style off the track?

When I’m relaxed, I’m wearing shorts and t-shirt. I do a lot of fitness training so I’m in lycra a lot of the time. But when I get to special events or if I’m going for dinner at a nice restaurant, I’ll always dress up. I love putting on a good suit and I really do feel that it makes you very confident as a person.

What’s your biggest fashion faux pas that you wish you could take back?

My 21st birthday, probably. I wore a faux snakeskin knee-length jacket, which was white. It was fitted, but it was really terrible. I had the trousers to go with it but I didn’t wear them (laughs).

What did you think of the movie, Rush?

I liked the idea of having two very different characters, but equally as talented, as competitors. I think it was good for F1 and hopefully; it has helped us in the States because that’s one area that we are still struggling to break. (But) I think James Hunt, as it’s a Hollywood styled film, was exaggerated a little bit. He was a bit of a playboy, but speaking to his sons, whom I’ve met quite a few times, they said, “we really liked the film, but he was also a loving parent,” which didn’t come across in the film so much. But Niki Lauda’s character is spot on. The guy (Daniel Brühl) did a great job, even Niki Lauda said it frightened him!

If you get to pick any actor in the world to play you in your very own biopic, who would it be?

The guy that I would’ve said isn’t with us any more. He died in a car crash a few months back – Paul Walker. He would’ve been perfect. But if someone’s playing me in a movie, I’m either dead or really old, so hopefully the guy who will play me is not born yet.

You’ve had young fans saying that they want to be like you one day, so what advice would you give to those who would like to race?

For me, the biggest thing was to never give up and always keep learning because when I got into F1, I was so inexperienced. I knew nothing about engineering or anything, so from then on, it was about learning, always wanting to be better than what you are and never thinking that you’re the best. Honestly, that’s something that I’m still doing now. Fourteen years in the sport and I still haven’t learned everything, there is still more to learn, which is exciting. That’s why I still feel like I want to be here in F1, I still get that adrenaline buzz and that’s because I’m always willing to learn and be better as a driver and also as a person.

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