Motoring and Motorcycling Sports

Jenson Button Q&A: Japan like a home Grand Prix

All the drivers love coming to Suzuka, but Jenson Button more than most. His close relationship with Japan goes back a long way, thanks to his time with Honda and his long-term girlfriend Jessica Michibata. And then there was that fabulous win for McLaren here in 2011, when he took the chequered flag just ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. No wonder it feels like a second home race to the Briton…

Q: Suzuka is one of your favourite tracks. What are your thoughts on coming back here?
Jenson Button:
 Yes, it is one of my favourite tracks, plus we have beautiful sunshine here, which I think should stay over the weekend. We drivers love the layout, plus this track is very demanding on the body, and there is no room for errors as well. Also the fans that come here, they are true racing fans and very passionate about motorsport. Many of them have already been here on Wednesday in the pouring rain with their umbrellas watching the guys set up the garages. That is true dedication, as I have seen the guys set up, and to me this is not very exciting. From what I can see, the Japanese are not necessarily a fan of a single driver; they just love Formula One itself.

Q: Do you have any expectations on the competitiveness of the McLaren this weekend?
 No idea to be honest, as this is a high-downforce track. We had a few new things in Korea that should help us to maximize a high-downforce set-up, which is promising. Although again, this is nothing that will turn the world upside down and we do not expect to fight in the front. We hope to be able to make some points and find the right balance that works with our car. We still have a car to enjoy the circuit – we do not have a bad car, it is just not as quick as the cars from the four teams ahead of us. With the few changes in regards to the downforce we might be able to challenge the teams in front of us, and that should be our goal.

Q: There are a lot of rumours around the staff movements for next season, not only about who will be your team mate, but also that there will be a top level technical person joining McLaren. Do you have any information on this?
 I am not involved in any of these processes, and (team principal) Martin Whitmarsh would be the best person to ask. One thing is for sure, though, Ross Brawn will not join the team next season.

Q: You have a personal connection to this country, and your win in 2011 here seems to be a stand-out moment for you…
 Yes, Japan is almost my second home Grand Prix, besides Silverstone, as this country here is in my heart. 2011 was such a tough race, leading towards the end, running low on fuel with Fernando chasing me and Sebastian. It was amazing to win especially that year when Japan had had such a rough year as a country itself. So this was a very special victory, and my girlfriend was crying her eyes out. Also the last couple of weeks we have been here in Japan, especially in Tokyo, enjoying the culture and the good food. Also I had great physical training here, so it has been the perfect couple of weeks.

Q: Looking back to 2010, would you say that Sebastian Vettel is a significantly better driver now than he was back then?
 Looking back at 2010, I would say yes. I was very critical about some of his driving, especially when we crashed in Spa. But from then he has obviously come a long way and gained a lot of experience. He deserves everything he is getting. He obviously has a good car underneath him, but he is the one that is getting the job done. I think it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him this year, although I don’t think it [Vettel clinching the title] will happen here in Japan, rather in India. So far he is the only world champion since I won the championship in 2009.

Q: What is your favourite historic memory of the Suzuka race?
 Probably Mika Hakkinen’s win, and for sure also Kimi’s (Raikkonen) win. I was racing then. I remember having a qualifying in mixed conditions, and I qualified in the dry and managed to be on the front row, but Kimi caught the wet. He had to work his way through the field during the race, and he won it in the last or second-to-last lap only. That was a mega drive.

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