Exclusive Q&A: Jenson Button on the new style of racing and who the favourites are
Plus why Ron Dennis's McLaren return is keeping everyone on their toes
By William Esler
Last Updated: 05/03/14 3:06pm
Craig Slater: Most people are making Mercedes favourites, not just for the first race, but also the World Championship. What are your thoughts heading to Melbourne?
Jenson Button: "It has been a messy winter for a lot of people in terms of mileage on circuit. The two that you would pick out that look strong and consistent are Mercedes and Williams. In a way it is not good when you are behind certain teams, but I am happy for Frank Williams that they have a competitive car so far this year. I think those are the two teams to beat right now.
"We didn't have our upgrade on the car in testing - we did actually have it on, but we didn't get to run it as we had a few issues - so for the moment we don't really know where we stand. Those two are the teams that I think looked strongest over winter testing, whether that will be the case when we get to Melbourne - it is a very different circuit to Bahrain - we have to wait and see."
CS: There was a little glint in your eye after testing and you were saying that this was the launch spec. car. With the updates on the car - some would say you are fourth quickest behind Ferrari - could you perhaps leap forward and rival those two teams?
JB: "I'm not really sure Ferrari are third quickest either. The Force India looks quick, the Red Bull when it is running is very quick, so I don't think we know at all. We tried to concentrate on ourselves during testing, but you can't help but look at lap times and consistency through runs because you can normally tell what fuel people are running. Bahrain is a unique circuit and the first couple of races on the calendar are very different types of circuit, so we might see some different results when we go to different kinds of circuits."
CS: Will we see a different kind of racing this year with the electrical power - you can harvest two megajoules per lap, you can spend four - so you have to husband your resources. How might that effect what you do in the race? When might you use it and when might you save it?
JB: "We are limited to charging two megajoules per lap, but we have four megajoules to use - basically that is how much we can use from the electric motor and it is a lot of power, we struggle to use four megajoules over a lap and at some circuits I don't think we will even get close. In a race situation it is something we will use like we did last year with KERS to overtake cars. The problem is, if you use it all over one lap in a race, you are left with very little for the next lap and it could be very easy for the car you have just overtaken to pass you again. So there is lots of playing around and also using the megajoules in different ways helps with the fuel usage and driveability of the car.
"It is very complicated compared to last year, we have done a couple of race simulations in testing and the engineers are flat out and that is before you include strategy and other cars into the scenarios that we have had. So it is not going to be easy, but I am looking forward to it. We have a lot of useful information that we have worked on and that the driver has to make the engineers jobs a little easier."
CS: Fuel consumption is the other big issue people are worried about. In the 1980s we saw cars concede to another car because they were on different fuel strategies, is that something we might see again?
JB: "It has been my worry over the winter that the racing wouldn't be as exciting, but looking at testing I think we are all going to run to pretty much a similar race of when we push and we are not going to push so you are still going to see some good overtaking manoeuvres. It is very hard for a racing driver to say, 'Right I am going to let this guy past because he is on a different strategy to me', so you are still going to see some great racing. It might be a bit different, but we are there to race, there to fight and there to win."
CS: Will these new rules suit a smoother driver - would someone like Alain Prost have relished these changes compared to someone that is a bit more gung-ho?
JB: "Formula 1 is very different these days with the aero regulations and the way that the tyres work, so I think we are always finding it difficult to understand which is the best way to go racing. Sometimes smooth doesn't work and sometimes it doesn't make any difference which driving style you have - it is about how much fuel you save and what car that is underneath you. So it is going to be a very complicated season and we really have to keep our heads when we go to the first race and not let our emotions take over and really work closely as a team and make the most out of what we have."
CS: You and Lewis Hamilton have both said that the Red Bull car maybe isn't as bad as many people are making out - he called it a stunning car - do you expect them to be challengers in the first part of the season? Will they bounce back quickly?
JB: "I think you will see them putting in very good laps in qualifying. Whether they can get to the end of a race or not I don't know. For any team, to get to the end of a race is very difficult - especially at the start of the season - and if you do get to the end of the race there are some good points up for grabs. I think for the smaller teams it is the best chance to score points - especially the two teams that haven't scored a point in F1. It is going to be a tough start to the season, reliability is important, but to win you just don't need reliability, you need a competitive car and an intelligent team behind you that really understands what it takes to win a race."
CS: Ron Dennis is back in charge at McLaren. He is an authority figure; is everyone that bit more on their toes?
JB: "Yes, and I think in a good way. He is quite an unusual character Ron, I have a lot of respect for what he has done in the sport - this team wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Ron - and I think everyone is excited, he is looking forward to this challenge and it gives everyone a lot more confidence within in the team. So yes, I think him being back at the team is very important for the future of McLaren."
CS: The England football team are getting a psychologist in to help them - is that something you would use? Is it an asset to any elite sportsman?
JB: "I am sure it is and I know certain drivers have had it in the past. But personally, no, it wouldn't work for me. You have to believe in that for it to work for you and that is not the case for me."
CS: How confident are you heading to Melbourne and what can you achieve there?
JB: "If you took the initial package of everyone at the first test you would say that we are quite confident. But now it is difficult to know; we haven't put the new package on the car and we don't know where we are going to be in Melbourne. But I am looking forward to it, it is going to be very interesting to see how the race pans out and I don't think we are really going to know the pecking order until we get three or four races in - and again it could change as the update kits come. But it is a really exciting category Formula 1 now with the way the regulations are, it is exciting for everyone involved and hopefully for the viewers as well."