Suzuka: Jenson Button has been told off for overtaking, and is wary of being pulled over for speeding as well, as he prepares for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Fortunately for McLaren’s Formula One driver, one of five drivers fighting for the title with four races remaining, the pre-race reprimand was handed out by an eagle-eyed hotel swimming pool attendant.
Overtaking? No way, not even for Formula One world champions.
“I swim all over the world and you can’t overtake in a pool in Japan, you’re not allowed to,” the 30-year-old told Reuters in an interview. “So I got told off for overtaking someone, for going too fast. They put something in the water and give you a talking to,” he added.
“I did tell the man that I didn’t see a yellow flag,” he quipped. “It’s funny because I got done for overtaking under a yellow flag here (at the circuit) last year, or for speeding anyway.”
The pool etiquette, Button explained, is to wait for slower swimmers to let you past.
“It was just like F1. No-one did,” he complained.
And when he took matters into his own hands, the attendant came out and blew a whistle.
Button, whose girlfriend is Japanese-Argentine model Jessica Michibata and a celebrity in her own right in Japan, has always felt very much at home in the country.
He drives himself through Tokyo’s congested streets, an act fraught with peril and not something for the faint-hearted, with his only concern being keeping on the right side of the law.
“Driving around the city is a great experience and you really learn the city and understand the way it is,” he explained.
“But you have to be so careful on the roads. Even if you go 2k over the speed limit, they will stop you. It’s everywhere. you pull away from the lights too fast and they pull you over.”
So far, he has avoided that peril.
Suzuka, with an army of passionate fans camped out around the circuit come rain or shine, has always been one of his favourite venues.
The feeling is mutual. Arriving in the paddock with Michibata, the couple have been mobbed by fans and photographers. Button suspects she may be an even bigger attraction than him.
“It’s great. You walk into the paddock and I just duck down behind her and I can get through easy,” he said.
“I find it hilarious. She gets noticed here quite a bit. You just have to go to a magazine store to see that. It’s good, I like that she’s always busy working and she’s got something that she’s good at.
“I love the place, I love Japan and I love Tokyo.
“I even like Suzuka. I know this isn’t a lot of people’s favourite place in Japan but I like it. It’s different. You don’t have the big, flash hotels. You don’t have a big selection of restaurants but I really like it here.”
Button, for years a Honda driver at a Honda-owned circuit, first raced at Suzuka when he was still in go-karts. His best result was third for BAR Honda in 2004.
“A win here would be amazing,” added the Briton, who did not complete a lap in Saturday’s final practice as the rain fell steadily and threatened qualifying.
“It hasn’t really changed that much over the years and its a fast, flowing circuit that’s unforgiving and I think that’s why we love it. You are always on edge driving around here, it’s such a buzz.
“To win at this type of circuit would be quite an achievement and quite emotional because of my connections to Japan.”
Button has won twice so far this season and has made few mistakes, despite being 25 points behind Red Bull’s championship leader Mark Webber.
If he were to defend his title successfully, he would be the first driver to take successive crowns with different teams since Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957. He would not rule that out.
“The next three races, who knows what is going to happen,” he said. “But the good thing is that I am there, ready to pounce and ready to fight and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in touch with the leader and close him down as much as I can towards the end of the year.
“It’s about staying focused and forget about the bullshit that will be flying around. And I’ve been there before so I know how it feels.”