Barcelona: Jenson Button mockingly cast his gaze around the McLaren hospitality centre, the Formula One world champion assessing the ‘lion’s den’ Jackie Stewart predicted could haunt his defence of the coveted crown.
“It’s not very scary, is it?,” he said with a note of weary sarcasm.
Sitting in what triple world champion and fellow Briton Stewart warned him was a lair that he would be wiser not to venture into, Button enjoyed a moment of vindication.
Winner of two of the season’s four races to date, the 30-year-old starts this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix as championship leader for the second year in a row.
Team mate Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion who was supposed to give him a mauling after Button’s move from Brawn to McLaren, has yet to win and is fourth overall despite some thrilling performances.
Stewart conceded last week that the Briton was taming the lions and Button thanked him for what he took as an apology.
“It’s always interesting to hear it from someone like Jackie who has been around and experienced many different situations,” the champion told Reuters.
“I know how I feel inside, and I’m the best person to judge myself. I’m very critical of the way I am, the way I drive, how I act within the team and also as a person...but Jackie is welcome to his comments, which are nice and a positive.”
Button, who heard Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone praise him as a good champion on Friday when the driver unveiled a plaque at the Circuit de Catalanya to mark his title, said he was no longer worried by anything anyone said about him.
His place in the record books was secure and he had something that could never be taken away even if, as Ecclestone pointed out to reporters gathered in the sunshine outside his paddock motorhome, “he took too long to do it”.
“I’ve won the world championship. I’ve achieved my goal that I set out to achieve,” said Button. “If my career ended now, I would end my career as a very happy person.
“I’ve got some great stories to tell and I can look at my trophy on the mantelpiece and say ‘I’ve won the world championship in Formula One. How many people did that?’
“But I’m here and I want to achieve more this season. I want to win the championship,” he added. “I’ve achieved what I set out to do, so I have no pressure, I’m not putting pressure on myself. I’m so much more relaxed as a person and as a driver.”
“It means I’ve more time to think, and more time to try and make myself a better person and a better driver, so I couldn’t possibly be in a better position at the moment.”
Button’s relaxed attitude was evident when he was asked about comments by ex-Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, who was quoted this week as saying that he still did not consider his former driver to be one of the five fastest in F1.
The Italian last season compared Button to a concrete bollard.
“He’s hilarious. He’s a very sweet man,” said the Briton. “I don’t know where he gets his angles from, but it makes me smile more than anything else.
“It doesn’t make me angry, it doesn’t make me sad, it makes me smile, which is a good thing I suppose. I’m pretty happy. I’m sat here as the world champion and leading the championship.”