Jenson Button: I love being the most experienced driver
Jenson Button ended 2012 just as he started it – as a winner – and he is hoping to get off to the same great start this year.
The Frome-born F1 ace began 2012 by winning the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and ended it with a Champagne-popping performance to win in Brazil. There was another victory in between but straight-talking Button admits that 2012 was otherwise tough.
That did not stop him being named British Driver of the Year, though, beating outgoing Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the prestigious Autosport award.
Hamilton’s departure leaves Button as the top dog in the McLaren team this year. And, like a true champion, he’s loving it.
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“I love the role of being the experienced driver and that is definitely the case this year,” he says.
“I think I am the most experienced guy in F1 in 2013.”
Looking back at 2012, Button accepts he had only himself to blame for not bagging more GP points.
However, the 32-year-old was dogged by tyre temperature issues that soon made his bright start in Australia a distant memory.
“Melbourne was great,” he recalled. “We had a really good winter and by the time of the first race we felt we were really competitive. Qualifying obviously went well with first and second on the grid, then I got a great start and led from start to finish.
“I felt really positive after the race and the weekend so we were really excited about the season ahead, thinking ‘this is easy, we could do this every week’.
“The next race in Malaysia was going well when we were fighting at the front but, after a pit-stop, I clipped the front wing and went a long way back.
“That was when I realised how tough the season was going to be because I was back in 14th, thinking it would be easy to get back to the front but it wasn’t because everyone was so competitive.
“It was a tough year because there were not been straight issues such as balance or aerodynamics. A lot of it has been tyres and how you work with them.
“I keep banging on about tyres but that has been the major issue. I had a tough year and really struggled to get around the tyre issues, which is my fault and is just the way I drive.
“I think we have sorted out the problems but it was really too late to fight for the title.
“Going into 2013 we understand the tyres more; we really are going to change and we have experience working with these tyres.”
Not only is Button taking a better knowledge of his tyres to the 2013 grid, he has a new team-mate alongside him in the shape of young Mexican Sergio Perez.
The pair became too close for comfort when the former Sauber man collided with his future colleague in Korea, but with the air now clear – things got a bit tense at the time – Button is looking forward to racing with Perez.
“Sergio is an exciting talent,” he said. “It is a big opportunity for him to come to McLaren and at 23 I think that is still young. He is relatively inexperienced but I think he will be fast and he looks like he is intelligent and willing to learn.
“But he will have a very busy winter at McLaren so it will be very different to his experience before. That is how it is when you are working for a top team, fighting with the other top teams. You have really got to focus and there is a lot more time and effort that goes into driving and also engineering.
“It’s different now because I arrived here in 2010 when Lewis was winning Grands Prix and the team obviously loves someone who wins, they listen to that guy.
“For me, as the new boy in the team, they were very interested in what I had to say but you have got to balance it up. It was always tricky but having the winter break allows me to drive the car into a place I want for 2013.
“I really enjoy working with the team closely on the engineering side, as well as the aerodynamicists to see what we can have on the car for 2013. It is a position I enjoy and can really show my best.”
Born in Frome and brought up in nearby Vobster, Button followed rallying father John into motorsport, cutting his teeth in the same karting series as the likes of Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen.
Successful spells in Formula Ford and Formula Three were rewarded with the 1998 McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award.
A year later, following a test with McLaren and the Prost Formula One tea, Button won a shoot-out session against Formula 3000 racer Bruno Junqueira to earn a Williams seat.
Despite now residing in Monaco, the keen mountain- biker and triathlon competitor steadfastly maintains links with home.
He has been vice patron of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, based at Henstridge Airfield, since its formation in March 2000.
The charity requires around £4,000 a day to operate, saving lives by attending medical emergencies across the two counties.
“I have followed their progress with much admiration,” said Button.
“I was born in a rural part of Somerset serviced by the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance and I regularly saw at first-hand its importance to the local community.
“It has been an absolute pleasure being a patron to such an essential and worthwhile charity. I hope my association helps to highlight the wonderful work they do every day.
“Coming from the fast and dangerous sport of Formula One, I understand the importance of having a highly skilled and dedicated team behind you. The crew of the air ambulance certainly matches this criteria and I wish them many safe and successful missions.”
He also has the The Jenson Button Trust, which was established in 2010 to help other charitable causes and campaigns close to his heart.
This interview originally appeared in our sister publication, The County Magazine. The March edition, out this week, is available from selected stockists.