Jenson Button at JD Classics Breakfast
JD Classics welcomed over 500 guests to its increasingly popular breakfast morning event, headlined by 2009 Formula 1 champion Jenson Button
There is seldom a reason to greet the alarm clock at 5am with anything other than disdain or a brick, but when JD Classics opens up its 155,000 sq/ft restoration works and showroom for one of its annual breakfast mornings the opportunity is embraced regardless of necessary distance.
An event by invitation only for JD’s loyal customers, business partners and ballot winners, the morning allows an unrestricted wander around the seven on-site showrooms housing some of the most legendary sports and racing cars, a chance to speak with some of the 75-strong JD Classics team and to sample the food on offer. It’s not every day that you consume a bacon roll with a Jaguar C-type for company.
Strolling around the workshops, the day allows a close-up look at how some of the world's rarest cars receive attention with specially crafted panels in the bodyshop, painstakingly detailed paint jobs within the spray booth and fine-tuned mechanicals in the garage.
However, the highlight of the day was a talk from 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, starring alongside his winning Brawn GP car, which he owns. ‘I made sure that it was in my contract. I didn’t want a replica at the end of the season, I wanted my car!’
Speaking with Simon Taylor about excerpts from his new autobiography, besides candidly talking about his time with F1 and the ecstasy of taking the chequered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2009, Button also explained his passion for classic cars alongside his experiences growing up.
Button expressed to the assembled gathering his joy of receiving a go-kart for Christmas from his father, igniting his passion for motorsport. Initially something to do on the weekends: ‘Then somebody said we should enter into a race, which was never originally the plan but I did. I won my first race’.
‘It wasn’t all plain sailing. Some races were a disaster – I was last, by some way. Stone-dead last.
‘I was once pretending to be asleep and I hear my father say to my mother, when we were driving home from a race meet, “I don’t think Jenson has it for racing”. I didn’t own up to hearing him say that until after I lifted the cup.’
But he stuck at it and moved on into Formula Ford for the 1998 season, winning the championship and Festival before landing in Formula 3. It was here that Button received an invitation to his first F1 test drive, by his idol – Alain Prost.
‘The thing about F1 mechanics is they give nothing away. I felt good with the car, came back in and I’m looking round and there’s no reaction from anyone. Anyway, I went back out and ended up going quicker than [Jean] Alesi had the previous day so then I sort of knew that I’d done OK…’
Taking lessons from Prost into his F1 career, Button was delighted to find he was replicating Prost’s calculated style of driving.
‘In my household we were all Prost fans. [Ayrton] Senna would set out to humiliate other drivers and would happily sacrifice the car in order to win. He [Prost] always said to me that he never wanted to damage the car, and that’s so similar to me.’
Frank Williams signed Button to his team for his first competitive F1 race in 2000, impressed with his performance. Finishing eighth in his first season, Button moved on to a ‘difficult’ season with Benetton, branded a ‘playboy’ by the media, by team boss Flavio Briatore and other racers. He was then partnered with 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve before 2006 found Button racing for Honda where, at the Hungarian Grand Prix, he secured his first race win after 113 attempts.
‘I had 12 laps to go and I was 35 seconds ahead. A lot of drivers say they want the race to finish immediately, they’re worried about things going wrong. But I savoured every moment.’
While 2011 was arguably Button's finest season, he rightfully claims that the 2009 was his most memorable. Following Honda's withdrawal from F1 during the financial crisis he returned with Ross Brawn masterminding his own team – Brawn GP. With little in the way of budget or in-season development, the odds were stacked against him on the path to his title.
‘It was so late that we got the call that it was back on… we were frantically running around figuring out where we get an engine from. We had Mercedes engines in the end, which didn’t fit – there’s actually a spacer in the car between the tub and the engine to make it fit because it was designed for a Honda engine.’
Winning the title had a profound effect on Button's outlook on life. He wanted a new challenge, partnering with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. ‘Hamilton is probably the most naturally gifted individual that’s ever driven a racing car.’
‘I did enjoy going up against him [Hamilton], and that was the whole reason for moving to McLaren’.
When asked about dealing with the newly crowned four-time champion behind the scenes, there was a long pause. ‘He’s great,' Button eventually smiled.
Although Button retired from F1 in 2016, he returned to replace Fernando Alonso for the 2017 Monaco GP for which the Spaniard was competing in the Indy 500.
‘I drove the simulator for two days but it just doesn’t work around Monaco. I rolled into the harbour twice! I didn’t know you could roll in a simulator.'
‘Anyway, I thought I have no pressure on me so I went up the pitlane and started driving up the hill and it just felt so natural.’
Button also spoke about his passion for classic cars, saying: 'I’ve really got into my classic cars, and coming here [JD Classics] is dangerous! I’ve already got a Ferrari F40 kept here – my dream car – and a Porsche 964 Turbo X88 Pack.'
Far from his days with a tuned Vauxhall Cavalier, which he claims was stolen in the dead of night and burnt out under suspicious circumstances – ‘I think my Dad may have done that to save me from it’ – among his impressive sports car collection, Button has a problem with his current transport.
‘My driveway up to my house is too steep an angle for my McLaren P1, so I have a 4x4’. The audience seem to freeze, until they find out it’s a Range Rover Sport.
While F1 may be behind him, Button claims he hasn’t retired from motorsport.
‘I will be driving something next year. I haven’t got a contract to do anything yet but I love Super GT. It’s basically a DTM car, a carbon tub with a 2.0-litre turbo engine, 650bhp and huge amounts of downforce. I had a little taster of that in August and absolutely loved it – the hunger is back for racing.’
For more information on the breakfast mornings see JD Classics.