May 26, 2021

Book Notes

Life to the Limit: My Autobiography by Jenson Button | Book Notes


  • Qualifying is a different matter. No relaxed excitement on the Saturday, just nerves – probably because I’m not very good at the whole one-lap-fast-time demands of qualifying. Give me a race any day. Ninety minutes of planning, strategy and concentration, that’s what I like.
  • Either you suck it up, do your job and enjoy it, or you’re Kimi Räikkönen.
  • And then, I flick my visor down. And right away I’m there, in the most peaceful place I or any other driver knows, where all other concerns withdraw and it’s just you, alone with the car and at one with it, knowing that however loud and bumpy it gets, however much G-force you pull, nothing can shatter the bond between you and your car. That feeling of peace is the best thing – the best, most perfect and pure thing about racing.

Part One

  • The difference between slicks and dry-weather tyres is, of course, the tread. Slicks don’t have any (treads), which makes them no good in the wet because there’s no run-off like there is on a treaded tyre. On a treaded tyre the water goes through the grooves, allowing the tyre to grip the road and give you a more stable ride, whereas on a slick the water has nowhere to go. It just sits there on the flat surface and you either spin or you’re forced to go at a snail’s pace because you’ve got no grip and don’t want to spin.
  • ‘The racing line’, we call it. The fastest way around a corner.
  • Every driver in F1 complains about them (tires). Every team struggles to make them work. In karting, they were our trusty rubber friends. You’d drive out of the pits and boom, you had tyre grip straight away. In a Formula One car, it’s different. Sometimes you just can’t get them working at all. And by ‘working’ I don’t mean rolling along the ground, I mean getting the right temperature in them, because a cold tyre is a hard tyre; a warm tyre is soft and grippy.
  • It’s one of the things I love about motorsports – you’re always learning, always having to adapt and develop. It’s not like tennis, where the rackets might change a bit but everything else stays the same. If you’re in motorsport, the formulas are always changing. The regulations, the tyres, the power, the type of engine. It keeps you excited.
  • Kids who were shaving, who were old enough to have sex and smoke – all three at the same time if the mood took them.
  • And that was the first time I ever had a petrol tank hit me in the balls. When you think about it, it’s daft place to put a petrol tank in such close proximity to the driver’s testicles.
  • Meanwhile, I went to my first-ever Grand Prix, the European Grand Prix at Donington Park, which turned out to be a special race because I got to see Ayrton overtake several cars on lap one in the wet. Awesome.
  • the phenomenon of down-force, that mysterious marriage of air, ground and racing car that will give the car more aerodynamic grip.
  • As a racing driver you can learn about the racing line, tactics, braking, throttle control, engine care and tyre maintenance. And if you’re serious about your craft then you’ll need to master those things.
  • It’s not optional. You have to have it. You have to have that will to win, that burning desire for competitive edge. In Formula One the most prevalent example of that competition is between teammates, because the best test of your skill as a driver is when it’s pitted against a driver in exactly the same car. That’s why the rest of us line up on the grid behind Mercedes and Ferrari. Not because we want to make up the numbers. Not because we want to look pretty. Because we want to beat our teammate.
  • And what I heard him say, very softly, in a whisper, was, ‘I don’t think he’s got it. I really don’t think he’s got it.’ I decided then that things would change.
  • And that was my diet for the rest of my time in Formula One. I basically had to give up carbs all year round; I’d often fast before a race. And I’m about average for a driver. Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg are lighter – they don’t struggle so much. Me and Lewis are roughly the same, around eleven stone, no carbs for us. The likes of Nico Hülkenberg and Mark Webber, being bigger – a whopping eleven stone nine in the case of Mark – used to really struggle.
  • When the weight limit went up all the drivers were overjoyed, apart from Felipe Massa who wanted it left as it was. Why? Because he’s a short-arse.
  • I’d joined Paul’s team, GKS, in 1995 when I moved into Formula A. It was a great team, where I found myself temporary teammates with Sophie Kumpen, who was dating Jos Verstappen and two years later had a baby with him. In other words, I raced with Max Verstappen’s mum, which is one of those things, like policemen getting younger, that you try not to think about. Later I got to race with Jos and Max, so I’ve got the full house there.
  • at the end of 1999, I tested a McLaren F1 car at Silverstone as part of my Young Driver of the Year award prize.
  • Zipped into my suit, clutching my helmet, I fought down a feeling that I didn’t belong here; that I was an imposter and would soon be found out, kicked out on my arse.
  • There were other guys testing that day. Apparently, Humphrey Corbett, a Prost race engineer, had been in the garage and heard a car come round. ‘It was using all the road and all the revs,’ he said later. ‘I went to the pit wall and asked when Jenson was due round, and somebody said, “That was him going round then.” ‘And I thought, That couldn’t have been, because the guy was on it. Using the kerbs. People on their first run usually take it easy, but he was inch-perfect on his exit of the corner and his speed on the straight was within 10kmh of Jean’s the previous day. He really was on it.’
  • Alain made an offer. He wanted me to join the team as their Formula 3000 driver for two years, then one year as a test driver and then into Formula One.
  • ‘Hello, is that Jenson?’ Posh voice. Alarm bells. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Who’s that?’ ‘It’s Frank Williams.’
  • These answers are for a drive in Formula One.Note: Jensen was asked to do a 4-page written test for a seat at Williams in F1.
  • Uh oh. Bruno was called forward to have his picture taken with Ralf. The decision’s been made, I thought, and was just about to skulk off with my tail between my legs when I was called forward and it was my turn to have my picture taken with Ralf, as though it was me who’d been chosen.
  • And then he said, ‘We’ve decided to go with you.’

Part Two

  • Still, as I was soon to discover first hand, in Formula One the word ‘teammate’ is used in the very loosest sense.
  • I arrived for my debut race in Australia, having managed to only notch up 15 per cent of the miles I need for my super licence. Meetings were held and after a bit of deliberation and FIA arm-twisting it was decided that I should be able to race anyway, which of course provoked howls of outrage.
  • A little dampener came in the form of a quote from Niki Lauda. ‘I don’t understand why Williams want to replace him,’ he said, meaning me. ‘He’s done a good job this year; they have invested in him and to me it’s probably a bigger gamble to run Montoya.’
  • ‘Ah, I don’t write the headlines.’ ‘Well, who does?’ ‘Uh, I’m not sure who wrote that one. Someone on the subs desk, I think. Let me see if I can find out and get back to you.’ And that’s it. That’s the extent of any accountability you’ll get from the press.
  • close down, and from that is bred a situation where the fans get nothing but a procession of robot racing drivers who are afraid to say anything. Which is rubbish for the sport. People bemoan a ‘lack of characters’ in the sports, well, they’re there, they just keep it hidden from the press.
  • ‘You’re a rookie, you’re going to make mistakes’ was their mantra, whatever the circumstances.
  • however downbeat your comments, as long as you end on a positive, it makes a big difference. ‘The race was tough, I’m disappointed with the result, my dog has died, my wife has left me and my pick-up truck won’t start. But I’m really excited about the next race and really looking forward to it.’ It works.
  • You can’t just get into a car and expect to be able to drive it fast, however good you are.
  • Tweaks you can make are to the front and rear spring rates, which is the stiffness of suspension and tends to be adjusted to take into account the surface at different circuits.
  • Then there’s rollbar stiffness, which controls the balance of the car and determines how much the car will ‘roll’ over bumps; if it’s stiff that’s good for the aerodynamics, but the car will struggle on the kerbs, and vice versa.
  • There are the damper settings, which control oscillation of the springs – in simple terms how ‘bouncy’ do you want the car to be.
  • Then there are the wing settings, which are crucial to get right for downforce, as well as the ride height, which is basically the distance between the car and the road and again is essential because it’s so intrinsically linked to downforce.
  • Next there’s the camber, castor, toe-in or toe-out of the wheels, which are all the angles of the wheels and can be adapted to the steering preference of the driver.
  • I got on with Fernando too. He’d come with us to Flavio’s place in Kenya, and we had great fun together. We used to go cycling and running and one night he took an anti-malaria pill that affected him in a really weird way. He just couldn’t stop laughing. It was like he was drugged, laughing his tits off all night long while we laughed at him. He’s a very different character when he’s not on malaria pills, of course, but we had some cool times together.
  • A French doctor had arrived, having caught the gist of what was going on. ‘You’re not going anywhere,’ he said, ‘we’ve seen your brain-waves and they’re all over the place.’ ‘But they were like that before,’ I said. Neither Louise, Dad or Dave Richards laughed at the joke, and the doctor just sighed. ‘Even so, you’re not allowed to go.’
  • ABS – Antilock Braking System
  • A road car, if you brake as hard as you can, you pull about 1G – if that, probably 0.8 of a G. In an F1 car you’ll pull that just lifting off the throttle. Hit the brakes and you pull 5G.
  • In long corners, you’re on and off the brakes all the way through, trying to balance the car, because throttle causes oversteer whereas braking will straighten the car up, and you’re careful not to get on the throttle and brake at the same time, which is something you’d never do in a road car but occasionally in an F1 car to warm them up, but otherwise no. It’s called overlapping and it uses too much fuel.
  • That combination of reading the race, good throttle control, good braking, an understanding of downforce and racing dynamics, is what it takes to get past the guy in front.
  • The top award is the International Racing Driver of the Year, which is voted for by the public, and usually goes to the Formula One World Champion. But it didn’t go to Michael Schumacher that year, it was awarded to me.
  • ‘Jenson you’re sixth-tenths quicker than anyone else.’
  • Rubens and me. He was good at that – probably the best teammate I ever had in terms of understanding and improving a race car.
  • On the track we pushed the cars to the limit; off the track, they push the rules to the limit. That’s the ‘formula’ in Formula One.
  • Michael Schumacher’s contract had stated that he was number one, and he should get all the new parts ahead of Rubens.

Part Three

  • Lewis, though. Well, you could come up with all sorts of psycho-babble reason why I wanted to partner him, but it would boil down to one reason: I am a sportsman. I feed off competition and I wanted to pit myself against the fastest driver on the grid, a World Champion. I wanted to see if I could beat him.
  • Parc fermé is basically an area where all cars must go directly after the race. It’s a kind of quarantine, the idea being that the cars can’t be touched or tinkered with by the team, while officials from the FIA check for legality issues.
  • Sarcasm, for example, is always a bad idea in a print interview.
  • Daniel Ricciardo’s one of my best mates left in the sport, and he’s podium gold. He’s got this shoe thing he does, a ‘shoey’, where he takes off his boot, pours champagne in it, drinks it and then makes other people drink it as well.
  • (tell you who takes a load of sugar in his tea: Lewis Hamilton, that’s who),
  • A few days after Singapore, it was officially announced, ending months of speculation, that Lewis was leaving to partner Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. Joining me as his replacement would be Sergio Pérez.
  • That meant that over the three years we’d been teammates, I had outscored him, with 672 points to 657. I counted myself more than happy with that.
  • Lewis was unbelievably quick and could pull a lap out of the bag just like that; Lewis and Ayrton Senna were the two quickest guys over one lap, maybe ever, but Fernando was the more rounded driver.
  • Now that I’m no longer contractually forbidden I’m free to race in other categories. I enjoyed that rallycross experience, I’ve already dipped a toe in Super GT and I’d love to do Le Mans at some point – there’s so much out there. Just not Formula One. Not without Dad.

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