Jenson Button used to be compared to Alain Prost during his Formula 1 career because of his silky-smooth driving style. Now the 2009 world champion is proud to have something in common with Prost’s old nemesis, thanks to his role in reviving the Radford luxury coach-building company near his home in California.
“For me the exciting thing is developing a car from scratch,” says the 41-year-old when Autocar catches up with him at the Goodwood Revival, where Radford gave its new Lotus 62-2 coupé its UK debut last weekend. “Ayrton Senna did it with the Honda NSX. He was the only F1 driver to have a proper involvement in a road car. Others might have put their name to something or like me worked on the paddle-shift on McLarens” – apparently the gearchange was too smooth, he wanted more of a click – “but to have a real involvement in building a car and working with people who are so passionate is just great.”
He’s a busy man, is Jenson Button. Since retiring from Formula 1 at the end of 2017 after 18 seasons at motor racing’s pinnacle, he’s raced in Japan, at Le Mans and scared himself silly on the Baja 1000. Now he runs his own Extreme E team, has a consultancy role at Williams with whom he made his F1 debut at the tender age of 20 back in 2000, and is becoming an increasingly proficient TV broadcaster thanks to his work on Sky F1’s grand prix coverage. But it’s Radford that has really got him pumped.
“F1 is three days of work nine times a year,” says Button, who also visits the Williams base at Grove whenever he is in the UK. “I do have some other things going on. It’s fine, but I wouldn’t want to be doing any more F1 races because I don’t want to be away from my kids too much. But the great thing about Radford is it’s down the road from where I live, 45 minutes on a good day, two hours at the wrong time… This is the one thing that I’m doing that I can really sink my teeth into, feel like I’m really part of the project and make a massive difference to where it goes.”
Button became a Radford co-founder through his friend, TV presenter Ant Anstead. The pair are partners along with car designer Mark Stubbs and the business/legal brains of the business, Roger Behle. As you’d expect, Jenson has a key role to play as test driver, but his involvement stretches far beyond his input behind the wheel. “He’s had a huge influence,” says Anstead. “One evening we had a WhatsApp group between us. We’d designed the back of the car, he sent a picture and said no, lower it. So the next day we did, based on an armchair conversation.”
“The good thing about [designer] Mark is he’s very open to our opinions,” says Button. “Whether he agrees or not is a different thing…” Jenson’s input includes the camera wing mirrors and the ducktail rear wings which he insists are more than just for show. “It was more of a ‘Breadvan’ design initially and without the wings it was a little bit too square at the back, a bit too Lotus Europa in style,” he says. “The ducktails definitely give the car downforce, as does the diffuser. You have to have that with a car like this.”