Retirement must seem boring after a career driving Formula 1 cars around the world at 200mph. Jenson Button, however, has found new projects to fill his days. From joining friends Ant Anstead and Roger Behle in reviving the Radford Motors name as a modern boutique coachbuilder to getting back behind the wheel of a production car, Button has kept busy.
On the track, he teamed up with Mobil 1 and Rick Ware Racing to race the #15 Ford at the Circuit of the Americas earlier this year, before jumping into the Garage 56 cup car for a stellar performance. at Le Mans. We caught up with Jenson just before the first NASCAR Chicago street race for a chat ranging from his return to racing to his best and worst car buys.
C/D: You won Monaco, and you had a good series of successes at Le Mans in the past, do you have any want to go after the triple crown? (The triple crown of motorsport includes victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500).
JB: I have no interest in racing IndyCar. I have a lot of respect for guys who race in IndyCar. I know a lot of riders, I raced against them, they are good friends. But racing in Indy? No. No interest. Road courses I would be interested in driving an IndyCar but not ovals. I don’t know ovals at all, and at this point in my life, I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve. Now I have fun. I don’t think an Indy 500 would be fun for me. It’s a little too scary.
C/D: Speaking of having fun, what’s on the schedule?
JB: Endurance racing is my head for next year. There are things I like: I like teamwork, I like working with teammates to develop a car. Whereas in F1 the most important person to beat is your team mate because you are in the same kit. In endurance racing, I don’t care if I’m the fastest guy in our car. If I’m the slowest guy, that’s great, because I know I’m fast. If I can help the other guys be faster than me and develop the car, that’s great because it means we have a great team of drivers.
C/D: Are you considering IMSA to stay in the United States?
JB: IMSA would be nice, but WEC also runs on great tracks. You know, first we would race at Le Mans, which is great. The spa is quite special. They race in Interlagos (in Brazil) next year, Qatar is new next year. I drove Qatar in a road car and it’s crazy, very high speed, very quick and smooth. So I raced on each of the tracks, whereas in IMSA I don’t really know a lot of tracks. I heard IMSA is a lot of fun, it’s a very relaxed race, quite popular. But there are less competitive options in IMSA. Road Atlanta is the big year-end race. I might be doing this one. Could be.
C/D: Transitioning a bit out of the race, what attracted you to Radford? What was the appeal of this project?
JB: It’s me, Ant Antsead and Roger Behle (who’s a lawyer), and we’ve all been good friends for a while. We are now the main owners of Radford, and developing a road car was really exciting. The aim was to work with manufacturers to develop cars with them, making bespoke, coach-built cars for individuals. We built 62 examples of the first. Because of my engineering background and working with Formula 1 teams over the years, we felt it was possible to build the lightest and best handling road car around. One without all the crazy tech like ABS, stability control and all that. We can make a car that didn’t need it, because it was light and had enough mechanical grip. We didn’t want to add any aero to it, because we just thought the mechanical grip was more consistent. The aero is great, but if you have a gust of wind it completely changes the balance. And it would have been very difficult to control the airflow with the aerodynamics given the limited wind tunnel time we would have had. It is therefore a very mechanical car.
C/D: You also own an Extreme E team. Do you find it more stressful driving a race team or owning one?
JB: It’s definitely more stressful driving. With team ownership, I have partners. Because I do so many other things, most of the work is done by them. We have a great team of people. I have a GT team in the UK, called Rocket Motorsport, so we use those mechanics to run the Extreme E program. The program is only five races. It’s very limited what you can do with the cars: they get on the boat, go to the next race, get out, and then you can work on them. So it’s not that stressful. Starting an automotive business is much more stressful. It’s the most stressful thing I’ve tried to do, because I put my name in it and invested in it too. Racing cars have been very stressful over the years. Now, that is no longer the case. I feel like I like racing now more than before because back then it was my job, it was my livelihood. It was my career from the age of eight to the age of 37 when I left F1.
C/D: A few lighter questions. First car?
JB: You probably wouldn’t know what it is, but it was a Vauxhall Cavalier. 2.0-litre, 8-valve, slow as shit, but it also had big wheels, lowered suspension and big 4×8 speakers in the back.
C/D: Childhood dream car?
JB: Ferrari F40, which I owned for a while.
C/D: First car purchase after signing with Williams?
JB: I bought a Ferrari F355, a yellow GTS, which I still own.
C/D: What’s in your garage right now, and what was your worst car purchase?
JB: Oh, there have been many, many bad car buys. How can I reduce it to one? When I moved to America and finished F1, I went to an auction and bought three cars. I bought a 1980 gold Trans Am, I bought a 1957 Bel Air that had an LS3 in it, and I bought a blue 1956 Chevy pickup truck. The reason they were the worst is because I didn’t have them. never driven. They were just sitting in my garage, so I sold them all a few years ago. I had a lot of bad sales, which meant I sold cars too soon and didn’t make the money I should have. I had an Enzo that I sold for $600,000. They’re like $3 million now. I sold my F40, and it’s worth double what I sold it for. I had a Porsche Carrera GT, which I sold, and it is worth four times the price at which I sold it. But I also won in the car. I love my classic cars. I have three old Jaguars: an E type, a C type and an XK120. I’m racing my Type C. It belonged to Fangio at the time, and I’m racing it at Goodwood this year during the revival.
Deputy news editor
Jack Fitzgerald’s love of cars stems from his still unwavering addiction to Formula 1.
After a brief stint as a draftsman for a local dealership group in college, he knew he needed a more permanent way to drive all the new cars he couldn’t afford and decided to pursue a career in automotive writing. Tracking down his college professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he was able to scour Wisconsin for stories in the automotive world before landing his dream job at Car and driver. His new goal is to delay the inevitable demise of his 2010 Volkswagen Golf.