Jenson Button has revealed he is talking to manufacturers to secure a drive at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2023, when Ferrari, Audi and Porsche will join Toyota, Peugeot and Glickenhaus at the great race following the introduction of the new Le Mans Hypercar regulations.
The 2009 Formula 1 world champion will race this weekend as an owner-driver in the new Extreme E electric off-road series in Saudia Arabia, teaming with Swedish touring car racer Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky (pictured with Button, above). But he admitted his ambitions to further a career that included 306 starts and 15 wins in F1 remain unquenched at 41 years old.
“I need to do something else as well,” he told RACER. “I need to do some circuit racing as well. I love off-road and I’d like to do maybe a rally or rallycross. I’ve spoken to a lot of the guys and they’re like, ‘Ah, you want to do rallycross, well I have a car you can test. Oh, you want to do rally? I’ve got a car you can test as well,’ and that’s amazing — so many opportunities.
“But my dream is to race at Le Mans in 2023. I think it’s the best it’s ever been, probably. I remember talking about Le Mans 10 years ago, how special it was. We had three manufacturers racing in LMP1, then it massively declined very quickly. But it’s on the up again. It’s unbelievable: there’s going to be seven or eight manufacturers in LMH/LMDh –that’s the only thing, the slight confusion in categories [between the Hypercars and the IMSA-spec Le Mans Daytona hybrids].”
Button made his Le Mans debut at short notice in 2018 when he drove a BR Engineering BR1 LMP1 for SMP Racing at the French classic, when an engine failure stopped him from making the finish.
He confirmed that he is talking to manufacturers for a return in 2023, but stopped short of indicating which he might join. “For me it’s important not to just get in a car,” he said. “I got in a car at Le Mans 2018 for the experience and I loved it, but still it wasn’t my car. I want to develop a car and that’s my strength. I’ve spoken to a couple of people and at 41 they think it’s the perfect age. It is the best time for an endurance driver because you’re not there to prove anything. You’re there to develop the car, build it and you’re going to be quick but also you’ve had the experience.”
Confirmation that Ferrari is returning to Le Mans with a factory team for the first time since 1973 has heightened excitement for the new era, as Button acknowledged. “If Charles Leclerc gets in a Ferrari at Le Mans he’s going to be extremely good, because he’s got his head on the right way round,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that if it happens.”
Last year, Los Angeles-based Button considered a move into IndyCar for a limited road course and street circuit campaign, but admitted he has now cooled on the idea.
“Yeah, I was looking at it but just jumping in is tricky because there’s no testing,” he said. “I don’t want to get into something and do a bad job. It’s completely different to F1 — the cars are very heavy with no power steering and I’ve seen quite a few F1 drivers get in it and struggle initially. After five or six races they’re strong and I’m sure [Romain] Grosjean will be strong, but it’s going to take a bit of time and I don’t want to have a couple of races to find my feet. It’s a shame, but I don’t think that one’s going to happen.
“But Le Mans is unbelievably exciting. I think for motorsport as a whole it’s exciting and it’s good to see. There are a couple of hydrogen cars that could also be running which is good, out of Garage 56 [for experimental cars], so there is progress. Then again, it would also be nice to race in the States because that’s where I live now.”