Age no obstacle for Jenson button as he eyes new peaks in 2024

Published Jan 15, 2024


It is 15 years since Jenson Button claimed the Formula One drivers championship but as the World Endurance Championship (WEC) prepares to get underway at the end of February, the Briton told AFP he is eyeing new peaks, not least the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour race.

Button, who turns 44 on Friday, has remained busy in motor sport since stepping away from F1 at the end of the 2016 season but he is now making a full-time return to racing at the wheel of a Porsche with Hertz Team JOTA.

"I am not just a Formula One driver, I'm a racing driver," Button told AFP.

"I have always loved endurance racing, first because the cars look super cool. In the eighties I used to sit down and watch F1 and Le Mans with my dad.

"I can't believe I've only raced there twice but I am going to be adding to that hopefully over the next couple of years."

Button won 15 grand prix in Formula One, six of them in his 2009 title-winning season with Brawn. He later moved to McLaren, teaming up with Lewis Hamilton.

He has been no slouch, though, since he quit F1.

"I have raced in all sorts of things since then," he says.

"SuperGT in Japan, British GT, trophy trucks, rally cross cars. I have done everything. I have raced in NASCAR which was amazing."

Button is no newcomer to the world of endurance racing.

In 1999, the season before he stepped up to Formula One with Williams, he made his endurance debut in the 24 Hours of Spa although he had to retire after 22 laps.

He drove at Le Mans in 2018 - he was at the wheel when his car dropped out with electronic problems - and 39th last year.

"The word I would use to describe Le Mans is 'emotional'," he says.

"Whether you win or you lose, whether you crash or you finish, you just want to cry.

"You've been through so much with your teammates that you're celebrating the end of the race, whatever's happened, whether it was good or bad.

"That's what I love about it. It's a really tough race for driver and machine."

'24 hours of madness'

Beyond the on-track experience is the preamble to the race and the camaraderie and rivalry that has made it such a legendary event on the racing calendar.

"It's everything from the build-up to the chequered flag," says Button.

"I think because there are so many teams, so many drivers, it's like a village having that many people in Le Mans for the race.

"Three drivers per car, 60 cars, that's 180 racing drivers. Then you've got the extra drivers, all the crews... Everyone arrives and you are in your own little bubble for 10 days.

"It's a great build-up and then the race starts and it's 24 hours of madness.

"Everyone drives flat out for 24 hours. Everyone's been awake for 36, 42 hours... you don't just wake up and go racing. So it's a really emotional moment."

As Button clicks 44 on the age counter, there are inevitably questions about whether he is now too old to compete at the highest level in motorsport. But he just shakes his head and smiles.

"I haven't seen it as an issue yet with drivers in their forties," he says.

"Fernando Alonso is 42 and I would say he's one of the best drivers in the world, still in F1.

"If you have the fitness, which I do, I train more now than when I was racing in F1, if you keep your reactions there, if the want is still there, then there is no reason why you can't still go racing.

"I know people in their 50s that are still very competitive.

"Also this is endurance racing. You have to be fast but it's more about being consistent through your stints. And that's key. That's something I have always been very good at through my career.

"I don't think age is a factor. In a way I am ready to prove people wrong if they think it is, just like Fernando has in F1."

The World Endurance Championship comprises eight races, the first of which takes place at the Losail Circuit in Qatar on March 2.

Agence France-Presse

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