McClaren’s Racing Director Eric Boullier is here at the Circuit des 24 Heures, officially to support Fernando Alonso, but he also has his eye on Jenson Button, who used to drive for the high-profile British team.
Eric Boullier has a couple of days to say ‘Hi’ to some old friends, soak up the atmosphere and keep up with ‘his’ drivers. And there are two of them! He will obviously not miss a minute of Fernando Alonso’s endeavours with Toyota, but he will make sure he stops by the SMP Racing garage to catch up with the driver he managed for three seasons (2014-2016) and, who like his old Spanish teammate, will be competing at Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. Jenson Button can lay claim to a world title too, and has remained close to McLaren, the team with whom he closed his Formula One career, and to Boullier, the outfit’s Racing Director. Boullier comes from Laval, not far from Le Mans, and grew up with the 24 Hours. He then became professionally involved with the French endurance classic when he worked with the Dams racing team in the early 2000s. He is delighted to see the British driver come to his ‘local’ circuit. He confirms that the 2009 F1 World Champion’s refined driving style is very different to that of the flamboyant Spaniard’s.
Of course, the biggest problem for him at Le Mans is sharing the cockpit.E. Boullier
“He has a very refined driving style and his technical feedback is excellent,” Boullier explained last weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix when asked about Button’s presence at Le Mans. “When the pressure is at its max, as is often the case in F1 qualifying, he is able to change things completely and will give his absolute best. He can then rival with a specialist such as Lewis Hamilton. He’s very attentive to the tyres so won’t overdrive. His feedback is so good that can steer the car wherever he wants to go. That means he can drive to the limit to get the best out of the car. Of course, the biggest problem for him at Le Mans is sharing the cockpit. He’s always been used to adjusting the settings just as he wants and in Le Mans, he will have to make some compromises when it comes to settings and driver comfort.”
A long-haul race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans can’t be compared to a 300 km sprint but according to Boullier, Button should be able to rely on the skills that made him stand out at any Grand Prix race: his speed and his consistency.
“Le Mans is very different from F1 or the Japanese Super GT, the series he competes in now,” Boullier continues. “The Mulsanne Straight is really impressive and, as even Alonso will tell you, feels extremely narrow when you take it at 300 kph. The Le Mans circuit is not an easy one to become acquainted with. You have to tame it and it can be merciless with drivers who don’t show it respect. Jenson is an intelligent, very focused guy and will easily take all that on-board. He’ll realise that being consistent is the winning approach. I can’t imagine him trying to show off. No, he’ll keep his ego reined in. If he’s feeling confident, he’ll be very fast and very consistent, even if he’ll hold back slightly on his performance to save on tyres and fuel, to cover an extra stint. He has all the characteristics that make an excellent Le Mans driver. Button and Le Mans could be the perfect combination!”