Book Review: How To Be An F1 Driver

Jenson Button breaks down what it's like in the driver's seat
10:35, 01 Nov 2019

Jenson Button quit F1 in 2016 after 17 years “in the game.”

His father had died a couple of years earlier and without him the paddock hadn’t quite been the same. Life in “Formulaoneville”, identical whatever the coordinates, had become a little monotonous. And he had reached the stage in a man’s life when it’s time to move on to triathlons, decorating and “some other way of earning a crust.”

To Button, this crust-earning business is a priority, as to his astonishment, after being in “a state of suspended animation between the ages of 19 and 37”, he became “a grown-up,” which included, for the first time in his life, paying bills.

“Suddenly,” he says,

I was pulling out my hair because they were coming out of nowhere.

For someone whose first salary as the youngest ever F1 driver at 20 was a half a million quid, and whose net worth is guessed at $100million+, sympathy for his bill-paying anxiety may not arrive at the speeds he is used to, especially as he still races in Japanese SuperGT and does F1 work for Sky.

But then once you start to notice it, a big part of being an F1 driver appears to be paying close attention to how much things cost. A Formula One team: $200-400million. The McLaren racing simulator: £30million.

The trophies presented to the winners of F1 races: £15-25,000 (although they do come with a lovely presentation box). A replica of the championship trophy: £35,000 (which Button was “a bit put off by.”

Fortunately, his manager bought him one. But that close attention to detail pays dividends as a driver, and if you came to this book expecting, say, the background to why his first marriage didn’t work, then more fool you for not reading the title properly.

It has chapters such as “The anatomy of braking” and “Three races where tyres really mattered.” There is a proper discussion of mechanical grip vs downforce, bantery analysis of how the driver is occasionally overlooked in the quest for aerodynamics, a recent history of F1 clutches with special reference to starting, and how “in a road car, you brake as hard as you can, you still won’t slow down as much as you will just by lifting off in a Formula One car.”

He’s even prepared to let light in on which airline has the best cabin pressure for the flight to Japan (Delta, Airbus 350). But now that you the reader are in possession all that’s required to compete at this level, how is Jenson getting on with the journey in the opposite direction as “a normal Joe”? Well, he’s living in the moment. Putting down roots. Learning so much.

And for the first time noticing “how much I was paying on, say, storage or car insurance, and I could see that there was a lot of money being wasted. It’s been a bit of an eye-opening experience.”

Jenson Button, How to Be an F1 Driver. Blink, £20

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