Jenson Button’s new Extreme E team can trace its roots back to his long-held ambition to run a rallycross team in his post-Formula 1 life.
The 2009 Formula 1 world champion attended the 2015 Global Rallycross season finale in Las Vegas, which ignited an interest in the US’s take on the discipline, and a desire to one day compete.
“I went to Vegas and it was on,” he told DirtFish.
“I remember walking in, and we were in [Nelson] Piquet [Jr]’s setup and they had a DJ and they had a hotdog machine and I just thought ‘this is heaven, this is everything. This is what I want. I want to have a team in this.’
“That’s where the idea of having a team in off-road came about. We want to be serious, but you’ve got to have fun while you’re doing it as well. That’s where it all started, so this Extreme E, this has come from that day back in Vegas.”
Sadly, as costs in the discipline continued to rise, the ability to make that happen diminished. That was until Extreme E came along and presented a perfect opportunity to scratch that off-road racing itch.
“I’ve always loved off-road,” he said. “I hate [going] sideways in a car that’s not supposed to go sideways. So basically, in F1 I was the master of controlling a slide because I never wanted to slide, and for me it was always slower, being precise and smooth was key. But when something wants to slide and you can slide gradually, I love it.
“I had the opportunity to do a bit of driving in a Beetle which used to race against my father in rallycross – he raced a Beetle, and this was his competition – and I had the opportunity to drive it at Lydden Hill which was amazing. The difference was instead of having 250 horsepower it had 600 horsepower, so it had quite a lot of turbo lag which made it awesome.
“I was looking in the past to have a rallycross team but as soon as the manufacturers got involved it got too expensive and it wasn’t going to work, but the aim was to go and race in rallycross,” he said. “So, I’ve always been looking at off-road as a possibility for a team but also to drive, so Extreme E came along and with the competition that is there in terms of the teams but also the drivers, it was just a no-brainer to get into it.
“But I am the least experienced out of all of them when it comes to off-roading, so it’s going to be a challenge, but one I’m very excited about.”
Despite that relative lack of seat time in off-road, Button does believe his F1 experience will come in handy when it comes to racing on loose surfaces. A master in changeable conditions, Button was renowned for his excellent car control in open-wheelers, and despite being a world away from what he’ll expect in Extreme E, he does expect it to hold some relevance.
“I think it does. It’s about feeling the terrain and for me, the wet weather was one of my strong points, it was feeling the conditions underneath you,” he explained. “Rather than using your eyes so much, you’re feeling the conditions with your hands and your bum, with your feet and what have you and adjusting to every situation so I’m hoping that that translates well.”