World champion racing driver Jenson Button says any suggestion that Team McLaren invented a fuel crisis at the last Grand Prix in order to stop him racing his teammate Lewis Hamilton doesn’t understand the intricacies of the sport.
Button, who made a stop in Toronto Tuesday en route to Montreal for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, said during an interview that there’s a fine balance between the amount of fuel on board a Formula One car and the speed the driver runs during the race.
Too much or too little either way can sabotage a driver’s chances of victory — or even finishing the race — he said.
Refueling was banned in F1 as of the end of last season. What a driver starts with has to get him to the end.
Button met the Toronto media Tuesday afternoon before attending an evening reception at the Bloor St. shop of McLaren sponsor, Hugo Boss. He then flew to Montreal, where practice and qualifying for the 41st Canadian GP will be held Friday and Saturday with the race going to the post Sunday at noon (11:55 a.m., TSN).
During the Turkish Grand Prix 10 days ago, Button passed his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, to take the lead late in the race. When Hamilton passed him a lap later, during which the two drivers banged wheels, McLaren team leaders told both drivers to be careful because they were low on fuel and might run out if they didn’t watch it.
The race ended with Hamilton winning and Button second. Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who’d led the race earlier, finished third after colliding with his teammate, Sebastien Vettel, and leaving him on the sidelines.
“We (Button and Hamilton) had been saving fuel since Lap 20 (of the 58-lap race),” Button said, “because the race had started out a lot faster than we’d expected. We were pushing the Red Bulls and using a lot of fuel and it was upsetting the balance.
“If you’re running with two-and-a-half extra kilos in the car, that’s one-tenth (of a second) a lap, which over the course of the race is five seconds. So you try to be as close on fuel as possible.
“In Turkey, it was right near the end and they were getting worried that I was pushing too hard.”
Button, who’s won a pole at Montreal but never the race, is optimistic things will change at the weekend.
“There are no high-speed corners at Montreal, they’re all low-speed corners, with long straights so our car should work very well here. You can’t forget about Red Bull — they’ll still be competitive — but we’ll really take the race to them, I think. It’s going to be exciting for us.”
Button, who’s currently second in the world championship points race behind leader Webber, also said you can never count out crowd favourite Ferrari, who seem to have stumbled lately after leaving the gate quickly early in the season.
“It’s quite unusual (that Ferrari seems to be in a funk),” he said. “They had the perfect winter. They were very quick, very consistent and very reliable (in testing) and we were thinking, ‘Wow, those guys are going to be untouchable.’
“At the first race (Australia), they were very fast. But we’ve made steady progress and at the moment we are faster and doing a better job than Ferrari.
“But they can come back. They’re a very strong team, Fernando (Alonso) and Felipe (Massa) have the experience. You can’t ever count them out. We never forget them.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Button also had these observations:
MCDONALD: How surprised were you that people appeared surprised that you could win the world championship?
BUTTON: (Laughs) The people who I’ve always listened to in Formula One, who’s always been supportive, weren’t surprised. I’ve had a pretty rocky road in my career; it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster. I’ve had some great years but some tough years. The first time I had a car that could actually win races, I won the championship. For me, that’s the most important thing. Some people have said negative things but some people have been very positive, as well.
N.M. Okay, so why did you leave Brawn GP and move to McLaren?
J.B. Winning the world championship was something that I’ve worked toward for 22 years and, at the moment, I’m fighting for my second world championship. This year was a special challenge for me, moving teams. I’d been with my last team for seven years and this was a big step for me, going to a team that’s always fighting for the championship and working beside a guy that I have a lot of respect for.
N.M. Did you make the change for the challenge or the money.
J.B. (Laughs) It definitely wasn’t the money. Winning the world championship meant everything to me. So I thought, ‘What do I do now? I’ve achieved my goal, where do I go now? For me, moving teams was the best way to have a new challenge. Going to McLaren was the answer for me because to be world champion means you want to be able to defend your title. To be able to go to a team that has won many world championships with wonderful drivers like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, to be a part of that, is very special.
N.M. Mark is leading the world championship and you’re second. It’s two older guys taking it to two younger guys (Hamilton and Vettel). Is this a case of experience beating out youthful enthusiasm?
J.B. I feel that I’m racing a guy who doesn’t have as much experience as me. But he’s also experienced the highs and lows of Formula One in his short career. We’re all very competitive — some of us go about it differently than others — but the end result is very similar. Lewis is a great guy to fight with as well as being a great guy to work with. I think we get along better than most teammates. We share all our information because we know it’s good for us. When we go out on the circuit we respect each other but we’ll fight very hard with each other.
N.M. Is it the car, the team or the driver when it comes down to the world championship?
J.B. It’s got to be a team effort. There might be two guys running around out on the circuit but there’s got to be several hundred people working in most factories in Formula One. So you need a good car, a good engine, a driver that’s quick, consistent, plays his part in the team, who gives good feedback . . . you need everyone to play a part or you’re never going to win.
“There’s no point in having the best driver in the world if the car’s not quick. It can work the other way around. You can have a quick car and an average driver and you’re never going to win there either. It’s a team effort and I don’t understand why people try to split that up. You win as a team and you lose as a team.
N.M. Who were your heroes growing up?
J.B. In the Eighties, when I was 8, I used to watch Alain (Prost) and Ayrton (Senna) racing for McLaren and it was fantastic. For me, the racing was fantastic. They were two very different drivers. Alain was more the thinking driver, the Professor, who was very smooth while Ayrton was kind of a grab-the-car guy. He was very exciting to watch.
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