Q&A with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen
Q. What are your realistic aims for the 2014 season?
Jenson Button: Obviously, we want to get back to the front. We want to have a better season than we did in 2013, too. But it’s really difficult to accurately predict anything right now – these are such huge changes that they’ll have a massive impact on the competitive order, so we need to wait and just see how things shake out.
Our aim must be to have a smooth and productive winter; I’m very keen to learn all about the new formula and our new car, and I want us to be in a position where we head to the opening flyaways feeling comfortable with our package, yet still ready to absorb and learn more as we go.
I don’t think anybody’s anticipating the next few months to be easy – I can’t imagine anybody in the pitlane would admit to that – but our aim must be to make progress all the time, and to learn positively as we go.
Q. Is it difficult to get to grips with so many changes all at once?
JB: It’s part of the job of a Formula 1 driver. I’ve spent my whole career jumping from different specification cars – I’ve driven V10s, V8s, I’ve raced on grooved tyres, on slicks, with KERS, with DRS, with traction control, without it, with refueling, without it. I’m still here!
Obviously, there’s a period of adaption, but the way I drive – working upwards to find the grip level, rather than working downwards – has always made it quite a seamless transition. As a driver, it’s just an exciting time. I’m really looking forward to it – I love the mental challenge of tackling such a complex task; there’s so much to get your teeth into, and the prospect of problem-solving, and pulling apart difficult concepts and drilling down to find the best solution – that really motivates me.
Q. Nevertheless, are you worried about the state of flux ahead of this new formula?
JB: I think every single person in Formula 1 is sitting on the edge of the unknown. That’s both exciting and unsettling in equal measure. There will be lots of things going through my mind when I settle myself into the cockpit for the first time in Jerez next week, but, above all else, what I’ll be looking for is that simple, positive feeling you get from knowing that the car beneath you is a solid platform; one you can work with, and one you can develop throughout the season.
I don’t think anybody will be coming out of this first test feeling certain that they’ve cracked this new formula. I think it’ll be more of a case of slowly peeling away successive layers as the engineers and designers gather more information and gain an understanding of how the cars and power-units are behaving; and we’ll see that being gradually refined throughout the forthcoming tests and into the opening races.
I think this formula is too big, and too complex, for a single team to feel secure about getting everything right and quickly establishing an advantage. It’s about diligently chipping away at it that we’ll get there.
Q. Finally, how does it feel having a new team-mate alongside you?
JB: I haven’t really got to know Kevin properly as a team-mate yet. Over the winter, there aren’t too many opportunities for us to spend time together, but that will change once we go testing – we’ll be working very closely together to share data and gather as much information as we can about what the car’s doing, and how we can improve it.
“But, yeah, I’ve been very impressed by Kevin all along – he clearly did a very good job last year and drove superbly to win the World Series by Renault championship. And I’ve been pleased by his professionalism and determination this year – it’s a very difficult job for any driver in F1 this year, but I’m absolutely sure he’ll do a great job.”
Q. How have your preparations been going over the winter?
Kevin Magnussen: I’ve just had a singular focus: it’s been about immersing myself within the organisation, with the people, and getting to grips with everything that I’ll face when I finally sit in the cockpit later this month.
It’s no secret that I live in Woking and I go to the MTC every day. So I’ve spent every available day working – either with my engineers, with the team management, or with the trainers at MTC; building those relationships, getting to grips with the car, the style of driving, the cockpit and control systems, and improving my fitness. It’s a constant learning curve, but it’s fun and satisfying to be able to do it with a group of people who work so closely with you.
It’s been relentless, but I’ve enjoyed the discipline and focus of the winter. It will actually be nice to arrive in Jerez, to hopefully look out at a blue sky, and drive the car!
Q. Despite all the preparation, is there a sense of nervousness going into the first test?
KM: Naturally, sure. You never reach a point where you feel completely ‘ready’ – there’s always more you can do. But I think every team and driver is going to be feeling uncertain going into the pre-season. Personally, I’m just working hard to make sure that I’m as ready as I realistically can be – so I’ve learned the cockpit systems inside-out, I’ve been in the gym at the MTC every day, and I’ve worked hard with my engineers to understand just what to expect from this new formula.
In a way, the regulation changes makes things a little easier: at that first test in Jerez, everybody will be easing themselves into something new, rather than just getting in the car and driving away, so I’ll really be no different from any other driver. It’ll be how we react during the season that will define how successful we are. I know the engineers are working on new things all the time, but I think there’s still plenty of scope to move forward.
I don’t think you’ll get a definitive read on who’s competitive and who’s not until at least the Bahrain tests – maybe even later.”
Q. What’s the biggest challenge to overcome ahead of the new season?
KM: I guess it’s just getting to know people, feeling comfortable within this new environment, and learning what you can and can’t affect. One of the things that’s really struck me at McLaren is just how much influence you have as a driver – I can test something in the simulator, or we can work on something in the cockpit, and they’ll really listen to my input and, the next time you get in the sim, or the mock-up car, it’s been changed at your recommendation. That’s impressive, and it encourages me that this team has the speed and motivation to react quickly to any changes.
I’m learning how the team works, too. Obviously, a World Series team is a much smaller operation – you know everybody – and this is much, much bigger, so getting used to that has taken a bit of time. Obviously, I haven’t really experienced much in terms of media and marketing yet – I’ve been in something of a cocoon – but I’m looking forward to getting out on the road with the team, going testing and seeing what happens.