1 July 2014
Jenson Button exclusive Q&A - Part one
In an exclusive interview with Crash.net, Jenson Button talks about the struggles McLaren has faced, optimism for the future and his time alongside Lewis Hamilton
As the most experienced driver in F1, how does the experience help in this tough situation and how do the team and Kevin [Magnussen] benefit from it?
It definitely helps when you're having difficult times, it helps when you're having good times as well. I've been through every experience I think possible… In terms of understanding a race car, understanding how to set it up, how to communicate correctly with the engineers and working with the car. Understanding the car when I'm driving it in terms of how far I can push the tyre before it starts damaging it, fuel usage, everything. I've picked up so much over the years I've been racing; there's always more to learn but I feel my experience does help me and the team a lot.
How can you use that to help you in the future when you don't have a contract for 2015?
No, that's not something I'm worried about though. I just do what I do best which is getting the best out of myself and the car over a race weekend. I think I've been doing that this year and especially the last few races [before Austria] so I've just got to continue what I'm doing. We've got to push the team hard because we're not where we want to be and there's a lot of work needed to get back to the front and they need as much good driver feedback as they can possibly have to do that. So it's going to be a busy few months of improving the car.
We've found a good direction now and the atmosphere is different in the team now with Eric [Boullier] around and Ron [Dennis]. Things needed to change and they have within the team. It just takes time but I think everything is going in the right direction, so we've just got to keep doing what we're doing. Things don't change overnight though, that's the problem.
When did it become obvious that it would be another difficult year for McLaren?
Well the first race was a good race for us, we were both on the podium or in the top three. Since then it's been tricky really. I think we realised in the second race. We did a great job I think at the first race in terms of getting the best out of the car and I don't think any other team did really apart from Mercedes. That's why we looked so strong, it's not that we've got slower it's the other teams have found their feet and are getting the best out of the cars now.
From then on it's been tricky; we've been bringing updates pretty much to every race but so has every other team we're racing. I think when we get in to the latter part of this season we will see the strength of this team coming through when we can still bring updates and other teams are finding it difficult to find improvements. That's what we need and you've got to say that our aim has got to be fighting Ferrari in the constructors' championship. It's not a big target to be third but it's a lot better than we were last year – fifth – and where we've been most of this year. They're quicker than us at the moment but we are still able to be reasonably close and we've got to hope and work hard to improve the car so that we can challenge them for third in the constructors'.
Eric Boullier said McLaren needed to accept a change in culture; what do you think?
Yeah, with this team it's been very similar in terms of the way of working for so many years. The team has been so close to winning the world championship for many years – finishing second in the constructors', second in the drivers' – and when you are that close you don't change things. You don't feel that it's necessary to change things. You go along the same path for so many years which is a mistake, because you need to change things. But you're afraid to because if you do it could all go to shit.
So having a bad year last year in a way could help this team to win a world championship. In a way, in the future – the next couple of years – I think you'll look back and think 'Well that was a good thing for this team' because it made us realise that we needed to make changes. We were so close to winning championships but we were never going to win those championships because we didn't have the right direction, we needed something new. So bad years can be very good for a team and I think it has been.
What are those changes that you talk about? What are the changes which you could pinpoint yourself as things that needed changing?
I think you need to speak to Eric about that because I could put my foot in it! In terms of the positions within the team changing, different people are talking to different people within the team, making sure that everyone is building the car as one rather than different areas and finally putting it together at the end.
Also this is a race team and we want to be the best in the world. To do that you've got to realise that you do your job well or we say shit or get off the pot don't we? So it's basically that and it's always been like that for a racing driver and certain team personnel. Sometimes you've got to be a little bit aggressive within a team and we've all got to realise that if we don't do a good enough job we're not going to be a part of this team.
Do you feel that's something you brought to the team when you joined? Because Lewis came up through the team and maybe wasn't going to question that sort of thing…
No, Lewis was always very outspoken. He didn't have as much experience as me but he was experienced. We bounced off each other pretty well in terms of developing the car I think, but yeah, you're right, he obviously was set in his ways as he had grown with this team for so many years. But for me it's the same really. You come to a big team – it's the first real big team I've race for – so you come in perhaps with your blinkers on because it's all so exciting to race for a multiple world championship winning team, it means a lot.
No team is perfect, and you've got to realise the weaknesses within a team. I don't mean pointing fingers because we all have weaknesses and it's about working as a team to improve as a team. But you've got to realise pretty soon where those weaknesses are and really work on them. That's what we're doing right now.
You say you may have come in with blinkers on, but you did come in to what was Lewis' team and over three seasons you beat him. I'd assume you saw it as your big opportunity; you'd won your world title but going to the big team with more opportunities to win more often?
Exactly. More opportunities to win with a team that pretty much builds a car every year that wins races, and to race against Lewis. It was always interesting because you never know how good you are until you race against the best drivers in the sport. So it was an exciting challenge and one I really enjoyed. I had bad days when I thought 'What am I doing?' But we all do that as racing drivers, but I also had some bloody good days as well!
So it was a really good partnership; I think we pushed each other very hard and it worked very well. We choose to go separate ways and we need different things from life and our jobs and that was the right thing for him to do it looks like now, but at the time it looked like a crazy move! But things come around and next year we could be winning every grand prix like they are, you never know.
Is that a big frustration for you that you'd outlasted him, beaten him over that period, you were then the number one driver here with younger drivers coming in to learn alongside you but the team was then tailing off and those opportunities to lead a world championship fight never happened?
You can get lucky sometimes and you can get unlucky at other times but you don't get frustrated. You just realise that it's the way of the world in any sport. You can't have good years in every year of your career and a team can't have good years every year of your career. As we've seen with Spain in the World Cup, it just happens.
You do go through bad patches but it's about being strong enough to pull yourself out of those situations and realise that you've made mistakes and the competition is high. You've got to be perfect these days to win races. Maybe it's very different to 10 or 15 years ago where there were one or two teams that were in a different league. Now there are five or six teams that if they do a good job they can win during a season if they build a good car.
So it's a lot more competitive, you have to look at the fine details and I think this team is doing a great job of realising where the weaknesses lay and where we go from here and improve on those areas. It's an exciting future at this team and obviously with the difference in engine manufacturer next year changes a lot. And it brings something to the sport as well which I think is what the sport needs.
Part two will be published on Wednesday
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