Former F1 World Champion, Jenson Button On Why Motorsport Needs A Mental Health Relook

Jenson Button opens up about how mental health is the biggest challenge facing young drivers today. His advice: “Enjoy the journey and have fun”.
by Jamie Nonis 

Jenson Button

Jenson Button is not a fan of durian. “I could smell it from 100 meters away,” recalls the former Formula One World Champion, who was in town for the TIME100 Impact Awards and Leadership Forum in which he was a panel speaker. The event was held at the National Gallery over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend in September.

“I’ve tried a lot of weird and wonderful things around the world and I’m open to anything,” Button continues, “but I tasted it and my brain just couldn’t compute what was going on.”

Jenson Button trying durian for the first time in Singapore. (Photo: Singapore Tourism Board)

“It’s sweet and creamy but it tastes like garlic and my brain almost exploded. I get that it’s something very special because there’s nothing in the world that smells or tastes like that and it’s super cool, but sorry to say, I’m not the biggest fan,” he concedes.

It’s been seven years since the 43-year-old British motorsports star was last in Singapore. And Button has fond memories of the Lion City, having raced at the Marina Bay Circuit from the very first night race in 2008 until 2016, a year before he retired from the F1 grid with the McLaren Honda team in 2017.

“Racing on the streets of a city is nuts, and doing it at nighttime makes it special,” says Button. “The first year all of us were wondering if visibility was going to be good enough. But they did a fantastic job of developing this circuit into something very special.”

Unsurprisingly, Button keeps those seven years close to his heart. “I’ve had second places, both behind [four-time World Champion] Sebastian Vettel — which still pains me to say — but I got to stand on the podium,” he reminisces.

“F1 in Singapore is really cool because it’s a night race. During the day, everyone’s having a good time but as soon as the sun sets, there’s a bigger smile and the drinks come out, and it’s a cool atmosphere. So if anyone’s going to come to an F1 race, this should be it because it’s a proper party scene. Singapore will always be the first F1 night race and I hope this race goes on for many years,” he adds.

Jenson Button

“Singapore will always be the first F1 night race and I hope this race goes on for many years.” – Jenson Button (Photo: Singapore Tourism Board)

Button, who has since parlayed his high-profile F1 fame into an enduring multi-hyphenate public profile, now spreads his time between TV presenting, philanthropy and environmentalism.

The environmental advocate has supported F1’s push to make the sport more environmentally friendly, and he is one of the biggest proponents for the race to return to using combustible engines — but with sustainable fuel. Formula One cars currently use hybrid engines that run on a mix of 90 percent fuel and 10 percent renewable ethanol, and aim to run on 100 percent sustainable fuel by 2026.

But Button hasn’t hung up his racing gear completely, either, as he’s still racing in the current season of the NASCAR Cup Series and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Williams Racing Team. (Photo: Williams Racing)

Sargeant, unfortunately, ended up crashing out of the race, and Albon placed 13th at the checkered flag, just missing out on points by three positions.

What Jenson Button knows for sure

Mental health, Button believes, is the biggest challenge facing these young drivers today. “It’s tough for young drivers coming into the sport,” he says. “If you come in and you’re competitive straightaway, great. But it’s very easy to fall off the other side of that pedestal. Mentally, it’s tough. And we don’t talk about it enough in sport, especially in motorsport,” observes Button, whose foundation, The Jenson Button Trust, is engaged in fund-raising activities for a number of charitable beneficiaries.

“Your whole life up to that point has been to get you to Formula One to succeed. It’s very easy to come into the sport and have a few bad races, and then it’s ‘next’ and your career is done. And if it’s suddenly game over at 20, it’s really, really tough for drivers. So that’s in the back of their mind when they’re racing,” Button explains.

His advice to F1 rookies is to therefore enjoy the journey and have fun.

“They’re in a tough spot; they’re racing against the best in the world and it’s about getting the best out of yourself, but also making sure that you have fun and you’re enjoying it otherwise what’s the point?” he says.

“When a driver goes up against Max Verstappen, for example, they don’t last the year because he’s on it every race,” says Button, referencing the Red Bull driver who’s been dominating the current season. “But they can go and drive for another team and they could be competitive, like [Alpine driver] Pierre Gasly.”

In his 2017 autobiography ‘Life to the Limit’, Button opened up about his own struggles with depression during his F1 career. And it was his candour that sparked conversations around mental health in the motorsport world.

Several initiatives have since been introduced in F1 in recent years, including the ‘We Race as One’ campaign promoting diversity, sustainability and inclusivity, and also pledges to improve mental health support for those involved in the sport as part of the campaign.

He adds that similar to how certain cars suit certain drivers, certain atmospheres work for certain drivers. “Some are stronger than others mentally, and for some, it really affects them. It’s amazing how different they all are. Because most of them are unbelievably talented at what they do and you put them in the right situation, they’ll win a world championship. So that’s a big thing with the sport: It’s all mental.”

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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