Jenson Button is a Rolex ambassador, or testimonee, as the watch manufacturer terms it. His history with the brand goes back a long way. When he first became a Formula 1 driver, to celebrate, he treated himself to a steel Rolex Daytona. Then, on his father’s 70th birthday, he bought him the gift of a rose gold Daytona.
“As a family, we’ve always admired Rolex, so it felt like the perfect gift,” he says. “I’ve since inherited this watch from my father, after he passed away, and wear it on my wrist most days – mainly because it’s stunning but also because it brings back so many special memories. I look at it with immense pride.” In June, Button will be competing in the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, an event which Rolex has supported as the official timepiece since 2001.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with him and ask how long before motor sport sees its dirty petrol engines sputtering out forever? Ask the environmentalists and they’ll tell you the days of internal combustion engines are numbered, with all-electric vehicles soon to replace them. Button, on the other hand, insists petrol-powered racing cars have plenty of miles left in the tank.
After finishing his career in Formula 1, where he enjoyed a total of 15 race wins and, in 2009, secured the overall championship, the British driver, now 43, has dipped his toe into electric motor racing. In 2021, he competed in the Extreme E Championship, a race series where drivers negotiate rough off-road courses in electric 4×4 vehicles.
He says, in general, he’s very much a fan of electric cars. He’s just not so sure when it comes to the racetrack. “An electric car has immediate power. It’s smooth, and it’s economical to run but I struggle a bit without experiencing that mechanical feeling,” he told Oracle Time. “When you accelerate in electric cars, you get immediate speed rather than going through the gears, so you lose that connection. In racing, I love how a combustion engine works; how you feel the car through the road. I hope it exists in the future and there are many ways of making them more environmentally friendly.”
Button is convinced the top levels of motor sport – where he enjoyed such a successful career – will continue to burn fuel for many years to come. But he hopes that fuel will soon become much greener. “Pioneering technologies are constantly being tested on racetracks so I do believe that, in a few years, we will understand the best way for us is to move forward – whether it’s biofuels, hydrogen or electric technology. A lot of people in the sport are pushing in that direction and it’s important we have different technologies to work with so that in the end we’ll move forward in the most efficient way.”
It has been six years since Button competed in Formula 1, his finest season in 2009 when he raced for Brawn GP and secured the Drivers’ Championship. Inevitably, he misses the thrill of motor sport’s top echelon and the privilege of “racing extraordinary cars”. He points out how other Formula 1 drivers, such as Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen, felt similar regret after they retired from Formula 1, and eventually chose to return.
However, one thing that Button doesn’t miss is the enormous pressure that came with Formula 1 racing. Nowadays he is more likely to find himself behind the wheel of a historic racing car – competing at the Goodwood Revival, for example. He’s also due to drive in a US rallycross race series called Nitro Rallycross. And at the centenary of the famous French endurance race, 24 Hours of Le Mans, in June this year, he will be driving a NASCAR stock car. “There are some very special races on the motor sport calendar that will give you that same buzz as Formula 1,” he says.
Born and brought up in Somerset, Button was a BMX rider before he first got into karting. He lived and went to school in Frome, a small town just south of Bath. As he concentrated on karting, his school work suffered, and he left school with only one GCSE. Initially, his driving exam was equally unimpressive – the first one that he took, a failure.
By the turn of the millennium, however, he was one of the best drivers in the world, joining the Formula 1 Championship, first with Williams, then a whole raft of teams including Benetton, Renault, Honda, Brawn GP and McLaren. Thanks to his good looks and engaging personality, he was never short of fans, especially female ones.
‘Buttonmania’ was the name given to the group of supporters who would loyally cheer him on at races. “Urbane and eloquent,” is how BBC Sport once described him. “Good- looking and charismatic, he is a marketing person’s dream, and has a ready wit that can edge into sarcasm if he is impatient or uncomfortable with a situation.” In 2010, Button was awarded an MBE for his services to motor sport. In his home town, a street and footbridge have been named after him.
In 2014, he married Japanese model Jessica Michibata, but it was a short-lived relationship. Eight years later he married again, this time to an American model called Brittny Ward, with whom he has a three-year-old son Hendrix, and a two-year-old daughter Lenny Monrow. The whole family now lives in California, close to Bel Air, in the west of Los Angeles. Their house is currently being renovated.
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Button says parenthood is no easy task. “You can no longer think about yourself. Suddenly, you’re the least important person in the house. There are days that are tiring but there’s nothing better than seeing them learning, happy and growing. I thought winning a World Championship was what life was all about but now I realise having children is even more rewarding.”
Being so close in age, Hendrix and Lenny get along well, he says. “Now they are playing together which is just awesome – I could watch them all day. I can’t imagine racing in Formula 1 and being a father, that’s for sure. I have to be at home for them and my wife.”
Button appreciates the climate in Southern California. “It doesn’t really get that cold in California, so you know what to expect on a weekend when you’re planning days with the children,” he explains. “There is so much on my doorstep in the great outdoors which I love.”
Nonetheless, he admits he misses family and friends in the UK. “Nothing beats a good day in London, when the sun is shining and the parks are full,” he says. “The atmosphere is amazing. I also love the culture and architecture in the cities. I’m originally from Somerset, and Bath has beautiful architecture – it’s like a mini London. This is what I miss about the UK, but mostly I miss my family.”
Fortunately, he has some very expensive toys to keep him amused in California. In terms of muscle cars, he has a Lotus Evora and a Lotus-Radford Type 62. For fun, he has an old Land Rover Defender.
A new addition to his fleet will be arriving later this year. It’s an all-electric Lotus Evija sports car, one of a limited production run of only 130. Powered by a 70kWh lithium-ion battery, it has a power output of 1,470kW and, according to Lotus, will accelerate from 0mph to 62mph in under three seconds.
Proof that, even for a petrolhead like Jenson Button, the all-electric revolution is sparking up.
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