INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 26, 2001 - Jenson Button was the hottest rookie in Formula One when he raced in the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. This year, however, the season has been as frustrating for...
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 26, 2001 - Jenson Button was the hottest rookie in Formula One when he raced in the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. This year, however, the season has been as frustrating for the British driver as his first season was exhilarating.
Button made his F1 debut with the BMW WilliamsF1 Team last year and was impressive right from the start. He outqualified his more experienced teammate, Ralf Schumacher, on more than one occasion. By the end of the year, Button had racked up a fourth-place finish, four fifth places and a sixth, which earned him a total of 12 points and eighth place in the Drivers Championship.
This year, Button didn't even score a top-six finish until the German Grand Prix, round 12 of 17, when he took fifth place and earned two points. And those remain the only two points on his 2001 scorecard entering the SAP United States Grand Prix this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
What happened, of course, was that Button moved from the competitive Williams-BMW to the Mild Seven Benetton-Renault that only started to become competitive at the end this season. Williams had Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya under contract for 2001 and thus leased Button to Benetton for 2001 and 2002. The 2001 season was, said team director Flavio Briatore, a year of transition for the entire Benetton team, which is now owned by Renault.
"It has been quite frustrating," Button says of his 2001 season, "but you can't do anything about it except do your best and appreciate that you are doing your best. If you get down, it doesn't help at all. So much in F1 is if you have the right mental attitude. It's huge. More than I ever thought - it's very, very important to be positive.
"It is a different atmosphere," Button said, comparing Benetton to Williams, "but they are still human beings, so you can still get along with them. Last year, it was good working with Frank (Williams) and Patrick (Head); they really understood what I was going through, and this year there are people in the team that do that also. Flavio understands more (about racing) then he lets on. He has been a good team boss, and as a person he is very good to talk to. He is very understanding."
Some of Button's difficulties this year evolved because he didn't adapt to the particular handling characteristics of the Benetton chassis. That has changed for the better since the German Grand Prix when he started working with a new engineer, Paul Monaghan, formerly of McLaren. Still, Button insists he never has lost confidence this season.
"In myself, no," he said. "I think in the speed and driving side, no. But it was difficult with the setting-up-of-the-car side. I sort of realized that my inexperience really did show this year.
"When I was working with an easier car last year ... when I was further up the grid in a car that really suited my style, it was not a problem. But when you get into a car that does not suit your style, it is very difficult to work with it when you are inexperienced. But I have learned so much this year on how to work with this car. Hopefully that will help me over the next year with this team."
Last year, Button's SAP United States Grand Prix lasted 14 laps before his Williams-BMW stopped with electronic problems. The ignition switch had been knocked into the off position after the car hit a bump. It was speculated that problem could have been caused when he crossed the famous yard of bricks at the start-finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I just hope that they sort out those bricks," Button joked, "because if I hit them again and the engine turns off, I will go and take them out myself!"
Getting serious, Button said he enjoys driving on the 13-turn, 2.606-mile (4.195-km) Indianapolis Motor Speedway road circuit.
"I like the track a lot," he said. "I think it is a good circuit. The (wet/dry) conditions were great last year. The drying circuit made the race very interesting for everyone.
"I like the basic layout of the circuit, and it is nice to have the banked corner coming on to the straight. It's a good circuit, and it has a lot of respect from the drivers, as well." Despite the frustrations of his 2001 season, Button is looking forward to many more Grand Prix races at Indianapolis and around the world in the future.
"I have always wanted to do F1," he said. "I am very focused on F1, and I am hopefully on the route to meet my goal, which is to be World Champion and to win races. That is what I want."