Jenson Button and the McLaren
team look likely to become the first current F1 representatives to lap Australia's legendary Mount Panorama circuit as he swaps seats with V8 Supercar frontrunner Craig Lowndes later this season.
An application from common sponsor Vodafone has been approved by Bathurst regional council, and should see the two drivers repeat last year's promotional event at Melbourne's Albert Park, where Button swapped seats with Lowndes' Triple Eight Racing team-mate Jamie Whincup to lap the Australian GP circuit at the wheel of a silver-and-red Holden Commodore. Lowndes, who once held F1 ambitions as he rose as high as the FIA F3000 championship in Europe, will finally get his hands on grand prix machinery on the circuit where he currently holds the lap record.
“Vodafone are always trying to find weird and wacky ideas and this is definitely their most far out idea so far!” Lowndes told V8 Supercar promoter BigPond Sport, “For me, it's a great opportunity, but whether it comes off is another thing."
The biggest hitch in the plan is Mount Panorama's circuit licence, which does not permit F1 machines to be driven at full-speed, and may restrict Lowndes to a handful of demonstration laps instead. A similar plan to let former V8 driver Max Wilson loose in a Champ Car at the 2006 Bathurst International Motor Festival was also scuppered, leaving the Brazilian to run around behind the safety car, but Lowndes isn't too downhearted.
“It would be a highlight of my life to get my backside in an F1 car," he admitted, "I came very close in 1997 with F3000 and, after listening to what Jamie said after his experience after the grand prix last year, I was probably a bit jealous! [Triple Eight boss] Roland [Dane] goes along with a lot of things. He allows us to ride motorbikes, he's allowing me to do the Bathurst 12 Hour this weekend, so this would be another exciting thing for me and the team."
The event, which is likely to take place ahead of this year's Australian GP, rather than the V8 Supercar series' annual Supercheap Autos 1000km, has been welcomed by Bathurst mayor Paul Toole, who expects a huge turnout of fans.
"Jenson Button is a world class driver and Craig Lowndes is a renowned V8 Supercar driver, so just the media attention that both of these gentlemen is going to create will be huge," he told the local ABC
news outlet, "There'll be international media following them as well, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of photo opportunities for them to take of this magnificent [F1] car travelling around the Mount. An event like this is going to give huge media exposure to Bathurst and to Mount Panorama right around the world."
Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber
performed some demonstration laps in his F1 machine at the Barbagallo circuit late last season, but Button and Lowndes will require public roads to be shut for their appearance on the Mountain. The Australian also faces the added problem of the twisting Mountain section not being ideal for the low-riding McLaren, which some are predicting will struggle to cope with The Dipper, a notorious section which, as Button will discover, has the V8 Supercars bottoming out and leaving one wheel waving in thin air.
Lowndes, meanwhile, is excited to see how the 2009 world champion copes with his regular Commodore - similar to the car with which Whincup won one of the season-opening V8 events in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
“If Jenson does a 2min 08secs lap around there, I'd definitely look at replacing Skaifey too!” he said of confirmed Bathurst co-driver, and multiple V8 champion, Mark Skaife.