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Jenson Button on Logan Sargeant, his F1 career, and ‘Lap of Legends’


Jenson Button on Logan Sargeant, his F1 career, and ‘Lap of Legends’

Jenson Button has accomplished almost everything there is to do in the world of motorsports.

His driving resume jumps off the page, and reads like a “create a driver” script in a video game. A Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship? Check. A win at Monaco, part of the “Triple Crown” of motorsport? Check. A Constructors’ Championship? Check. A Super GT Championship? Check. He’s driven in NASCAR, including in last season’s Grant Park 165, the sport’s first-ever street race which wound through the city of Chicago. He’s driven at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in IMSA SportsCar, and yes even in eSports.

But he never drove against some of F1’s living legends, as well as one of the sports current drivers.

Until now.

Next month Williams will celebrate their partnership with Michelob Ultra with “Lap of Legends,” a first-ever event which will pit racing legends such as Button, Mario Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell against current driver Logan Sargent over a 15-lap sprint race at historic Silverstone Circuit. Sargent will drive against the Williams legends, who will appear as avatars during the race.

I spoke with Button recently about the event, and my first question was a rather straight-forward one.

How, exactly, will this all work?

Technology is a huge help.

“Well, a lot of very interesting technology to bring sort of the virtual world and reality together. You know, obviously from all those different eras of Motorsport, the cars were very different. So it’s taking as much information from all the data that’s gathered because even back in the sort of seventies and eighties, there was still a lot of data gathering from those cars,” explained Button. “So a lot of data gathering and then trying to bring it all together.”

Although Button admitted that when Michelob Ultra first approached him with this opportunity, even he was skeptical.

“When Michelob Ultra first mentioned it they said: ‘Do you want to be involved?’ I’m like, ‘I think it’s a great idea but I can’t see how you’re going to do it.’

“But they’ve really, really pulled it off and I think, it’s all about the joy of racing and it definitely brings that,” said Button. “When all of us were together, all the world champions, all the legends, there was definitely a joy in seeing this all come together and being a part of it.”

Among the many hurdles acing this project? How to normalize not just the drivers from different generations, but their race cars. After all, as Button noted, current F1 cars would lap the field in the hands of most drivers.

But as the former champion outlined, even the current cars have their weaknesses.

“Then obviously you try, you want to make it competitive still because the current Formula One car would be sort of 15 seconds quicker than a car from 20 to 30 years ago,” explained Button. “So there’s a bit of sort of balance of performance if you like, but the actual strengths and weaknesses of the cars from every era you definitely see in the race, which is kind of cool.”

For Button, something else that was cool was seeing the drivers all get behind the concept. For him, the insight from the other drivers, and interplay among them, was perhaps the best part of the project.

Aside from getting to race his own hero.

“So, yeah, it’s amazing technology and I thought I never thought I’d get the chance to race against Alain Prost. He was actually my hero growing up as well, you know, being British, I always supported him. He was a very big character, which I love, and he still is. So it’s been a really fun process, you know, going through from start to finish of this movie if you like,” described Button.

“And also working with all these absolute legends, you know, spending time with Alain, spending time with Nigel, Jacques, Mario, Damon and obviously Logan. It’s all together in one room. It’s definitely kind of spicy, there’s been a lot of good conversations and a lot of, a lot of good gags, a lot of good jokes.”

Having seen the finished product, Button admitted that he was “pleasantly surprised” at how it turned out. Which he attributes in part to how all the drivers bought into the idea, and worked hard at making it as good as possible.

“I had no idea how it was gonna turn out, and was pleasantly surprised how it turned out,” outlined Button. “I think what was also great was that every individual involved really put their, their time into it? And, you know, none of the drivers were walking around going, ‘Oh, this this doesn’t work. This isn’t correct. This isn’t how it should be.’

“Everyone put their time and effort into it to make it feel as good as it possibly could because bringing virtual reality and the real world together is kind of difficult but when you watch it, it’s really cool,” added Button. “The process was fun and it’s a lot of technology that we as drivers, we’re used to technology, but this sort of technology, no. So it was really interesting for us to really sink our teeth into the technology and see how far it’s come over the last couple of decades and during this process.”

Button also admitted to learning a few things about his fellow legends, and appreciated just how open they were with their thoughts, and emotions.

“I was surprised at how open everyone was with their, with their emotions,” explained Button.

The former champion then gave even more incredible insight on the human side of racing, and motorsport.

“And, you know, when we’re talking to them as individuals, as drivers, they, they’re letting us know the strengths and weaknesses that they have and the tough times they went through, and the good times, and that was great to hear because most of us, when we’re racing, we shut down,” Button said to me. “We don’t want to show our emotions.

“We don’t want to show anything that could be taken as a weakness because we don’t want the other drivers to see that. But now most of these drivers are retired, they’re very open with their strengths and weaknesses.”

Button then described to me something that, as an outside observer, I cannot wait to see.

“And when you get Alain and Nigel who raced against each other, talking about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and remembering every single race they did, and the races they had against each other,” recalled Button. “The human aspect of it really came through and I think that that’s really important on this film.”

The conversation then turned to Logan Sargeant, the one current driver competing in “Lap of Legends.”

Formula 1 is a sport filled with pressure, and the Netflix docuseries “Drive to Survive” is titled as it is for a reason. With just 20 spots on the grid, keeping your spot is not guaranteed.

This is what Sargeant is living right now.

As a rookie last season Sargeant became the first American driver to score a point in F1 since Michael Andretti finished in the points at the 1993 Italian Grand Prix. But despite that bit of history, Sargeant’s place in F1 for the 2024 was uncertain, until Team Principal James Vowles made the call to retain him for the current season late last year.

Sargeant’s spot with Williams for 2025 remains one of the sport’s big storylines, and that was kicked into high gear after a tough Australian Grand Prix for the team. When Alexander Albon crashed his FW46 during practice, the team was unable to get it repaired in time for qualifying. Without a backup chassis available, Vowles made the decision to slide Albon into Sargeant’s car, sidelining the American driver for the race.

It was a tough weekend for the team, and the young driver.

I asked Button what, if anything, he learned about Sargeant during “Lap of Legends.”

“I think, you know, he had multiple world champions, sat around chatting and trying to give him info of what to expect through his career. And as a driver sometimes you don’t want to take that right? Because you think, ‘oh, I’m an F1 driver. I’m not gonna listen to these old guys.’ But he really took it on board, I think, which is good,” explained Button.

“You know, there’s so much good information there from driving, to how you are perceived out of a racing car, and the stresses that you have on your shoulders, and the pressure. And we’ve all been through it,” continued Button. “So just trying to give Logan as much information as possible, and he was great.

“He really listened, which was good.”

Button then elaborated on the stress of life in F1, and the stress that Sargeant is facing at the moment.

“So he came across well, he came across very open, and he understands that Formula One is a tough business. You arrive in F1 and you think ‘I’ve won everything on the way here’ and you get there and you think, ‘oh, I’m gonna blow everyone away.’

“It’s not like that.

“Everyone has won all the categories before they got to F1. You’re racing against the best in the world, and it’s tough and it really ... you can take a knock in that first year. But it’s about how you regroup and then the second year, how you perform,” explained Button. “So, yeah, I think it was really useful for him, and hopefully he’s taken a lot on board.”

I then asked Button how he views Sargeant now in his second season.

“I mean, he’s got a really competitive teammate [in Alexander Albon]. You can say, ‘well, that’s, that’s tough. Because you’ve got to be on your game every race.’

“But it’s kind of what Formula One is, right?

“If you’re not gonna go up against the best of them, what’s the point? At some point, you’re gonna have to race against the best in the world to win a world championship.”

Button noted that this season is critical for Sargeant, but so is every season in the sport.

“So, yeah, this is, this is an important year for him. It’s not, it’s definitely not less pressure than the first year. He’s had a full season so he’s had time to think about strengths, weaknesses where he can improve and it’s how he reacts to that.

“So we’re only a few races into the year and obviously [Australian Grand Prix] didn’t happen for him. So it’ll be inte

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29 of May 2024