“I’m really looking forward to going up against them.”
Jenson Button was excited to be taking on the challenge of Extreme E when we first spoke a year ago during his visit to DirtFish to brush up on his off-road racing skills.
But fast forward to the conclusion of the inaugural Extreme E season, and the 2009 Formula 1 champion ended up with just one start in the all-electric off-road series for his own team JBXE, with World Rallycross race winner Kevin Hansen stepping in from round two.
Button instead has retreated to the role of team boss – admittedly a role he was always set to occupy alongside his driving duties. Instead of balancing both positions, now he says his day-to-day Extreme E commitments consist of “mostly interviews to be fair”.
“The issue for me was I wasn’t really prepped well for it,” Button told DirtFish of his driving in the Saudi Arabia season opener, having only had a few hours in the Extreme E Odyssey 21 at a test site in Wales.
With Button tied up for the Senegal race with other commitments, Hansen was an ideal fit for the team who not only had an existing friendship with the team’s regular driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, but had seat time in the car during pre-season testing despite not previously being signed to a team.
“[The] first race was fun, but when I couldn’t do the second race because of commitments, we found out that Kevin was available and was like ‘wow, amazing’,” Button said. “To get him in the car, I’ve watched rallycross for years, since my dad used to race in the ‘80s, so [it was] great to get him in the car.”
The decision paid off, with the new pairing of Hansen and Åhlin-Kottulinsky instantly locking in a podium finish at the Ocean X-Prix.
Hansen would go on to remain in the car for the balance of the season and help it secure a 100% podium record for the races he took part in, fully vindicating the decision to keep him in the car in place of the higher-profile Button.
“He performed really well and they got a podium so it was a no-brainer as a team owner to keep him in the car,” Button admitted.
JBXE took third in the team points with Hansen and Åhlin-Kottulinsky fourth in the drivers’ standings, missing out on the top-three by a solitary point.
While Hansen brought in clear loose surface experience that circuit racer Button was perhaps lacking, it’s his impact off-track and how he’s helped pull the new team together that has impressed Button the most.
“He’s obviously quick from the word go but working with Mikaela and those two are working so good as a team,” he said.
“Obviously they speak the same language, which helps, but they’ve really worked hard together, whether it’s setting up the car or learning from each other, from video footage and the data, I think he’s really helped Mikaela as well get up to speed and be very competitive.
“So yeah, there’s a great atmosphere within the team because of these two.”
I think trying to keep these guys on would be great but nothing’s set in stone yet for next seasonJenson Button on JBXE's 2022 line-up
A wildly successful four fifths of a maiden campaign in the books for his JBXE team, Button is now keen to retain his driver line-up for 2022, confirming that he won’t be back behind the steering wheel again.
“If we race, which we obviously hope to, I think trying to keep these guys on would be great but nothing’s set in stone yet for next season,” he said.
Securing the backing to keep going is priority number one right now.
“Extreme E was an aim of ours, for not just for the racing an EV but the reasons behind it, there’s a lot of technology here which is exciting so in terms of getting sponsors onboard and manufacturers it should be easy – it’s not been easy but it should be easy for teams.
“But maybe they wanted to see a full season of it first and see what the championship’s like and I must say, the first race wasn’t so good in terms of the racing, but ever since it’s been awesome.
“I’ve enjoyed the year and hopefully we can find the right sponsors for next year because we don’t have anything set in stone yet.”
As for driving, while he’s unlikely to race in Extreme E again, Button – who also works as a TV analyst, a special advisor to the Williams F1 team and is one of the people behind the revival of Radford Motors– isn’t closing the door completely.
“I would love to race, it’s just having the time,” he admitted. “I’ve got so much going on and I have two kids now so I struggle being away as much as I am now, away from the kids, so I’m going to be backing that off a little bit more next year.
“But I would like to do some racing. That’s my passion, it’s what I love doing, so I’ve kind of missed it the last couple years.”