Jenson Button says his ‘expectations are high’ but called his team as ‘underdog that is hungry to succeed’ as the former Formula One champion embarks on a new chapter with a full-time Porsche Hypercar ride in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with Team JOTA.
The Brit will team up with Phil Hanson and Oliver Rasmussen at this weekend’s season opener, the Qatar 1812km at the Lusail International Circuit.
A bumper crop of 26 WEC rookies are on the grid at the Qatar 1812km, of which eight are entered in Hypercar and 18 in the new-for-2024 LMGT3 class. And Button is ready to lead JOTA’s charge in their debut season with two Hypercars, setting their sights on more than just the FIA World Cup for Hypercar Teams title.
Button’s return to the forefront of endurance racing marks his first full-time race programme since 2019, following a podium finish at the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona with WTR Andretti. And Button is going full tilt to make it a memorable season.
“Expectations are always high,” said Button on Wednesday. “You don’t go into a season hoping to finish second or third in the championship. But you have to be realistic because we are racing against mighty manufacturers. We are, I would say, an underdog. But an underdog hungry to succeed and that’s what is exciting about it. It reminds me of my 2019 F1 season, when I raced for Brawn and won the World Championship. So hopefully history will repeat itself,” the 44-year-old said.
Button’s experience in diverse racing categories should help him and his team transition to prototype racing. Button said he enjoyed his first experience of driving at Lusail in the Prologue test on Monday and Tuesday.
“There’s something about the asphalt that’s very tricky,” said the British driver. “It’s very edgy, and it’s easy to lose the car on corner entry. It makes it difficult to push aggressively, but it also makes it fun, because you can drive the car in a manner that you can’t at most circuits. It kind of feels like driving a go-kart, when you see the steering inputs. It’s a challenging but fun circuit to drive.”
Button, who won 15 races and finished on the podium 50 times in 300 races in his 17-year long F1 career, was excited with the challenge of endurance racing.
“It’s good. Unlike F1, we get to test all week, so we’ve been doing a prologue. It’s basically our test before the season. So we’ve been driving on track and it’s been really good. The championship is in a really good place. There’s 19 cars in hypercars, and then you’ve also got the GT3 cars racing. So, endurance racing is in a really good place right now and it’s such an exciting championship with many different manufacturers involved as well as privateer teams like Team Jota,” he said.
Unlike the cutthroat competition within F1 teams where teammates are often viewed as adversaries, endurance racing demands a unified effort. And Button relished the prospect of teamwork with his teammates Rasmussen and Hanson
“In terms of teamwork, it’s very similar to Formula 1 in terms of you need to work closely with your engineers and strategists and what have you. And it’s obviously on a slightly smaller scale, but still very, very professional,” Button observed.
“The difference here is that you actually work with your teammates to succeed rather than fighting your teammate. You know, in F1 the most important person for you to beat is your teammate, whereas here you’re working with your teammates because you’re all driving the same car. So it’s almost a 10-hour race, I think we’ll have it under the lights here in Doha. So, yeah, it’s a busy week, but a fun week and really good gelling with my teammates, Oliver Rasmussen and Phil Hanson,” he added.
After the stint in Qatar, Button will have a chance to tackle some of the most famous endurance races in motorsport, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while also visiting some of the venues that he raced at during his F1 career such as Imola, Spa, Interlagos, Austin, Fuji and Sakhir.
Button said he feels energised ahead of the season and is ready for more. “From 2019 to now I’ve had two kids, but they’re a little older now. It makes it easier now when I’m travelling,” he explains. “During Covid we all felt like we lost years, and I would have been racing in something full time, I think, but it didn’t work out.
“So I did NASCAR, Le Mans, Petit Le Mans. I enjoyed it, but jumping in and out, you don’t get the best out of yourself. I want to dig deep into the details and technology. I’m excited about competing in a full season. I don’t see this as a one-year deal. I don’t want to be jumping around now. I am 44, I won’t be racing for many more years. I’m fully on it in wanting to achieve over the next couple of years. I don’t want to be switching championships. I think I’ll be doing WEC for the next couple of years.”
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