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Jenson Button on London Grand Prix by Santander
Jenson Button
How hard is it to assess a new circuit like this with a simulator?

A: This one was very tricky at first because the early Santander simulator model was a grey track with red buildings. From a driver’s perspective, very much at ground level, street circuits can look pretty much the same, so you’re always looking for landmarks that help you familiarize yourself with the location.

When you learn a new track you need clear reference points – where to brake, where to turn in – and it was a very surreal experience with this track as suddenly you’d register that you’re were on the streets of London with no other traffic around! A landmark would flash by and it would prompt the sudden thought, ‘Oh, right, that’s the Houses of Parliament…’

Anyway, as you will see, the amazing work of the CGI artists has now made the vision of a London GP so real that you can reach out and touch it.

Q: What are your thoughts on the London Grand Prix by Santander?

A: There have been times when I’ve been sitting in the back of a black taxi and idly thought to myself, ‘This would make a pretty good corner on a racetrack.’ If we ever could have a London Grand Prix, I think it would be spectacular and would be such a great addition to the city’s status as one of the world’s greatest sporting capitals.

We did a Formula 1 street demonstration on Regent Street a few years ago, and a quarter of a million people came out to watch – I remember the sight of thousands of people on rooftops and balconies on every storey of every building along the route. There’s a mammoth following for Formula One in the UK and a race in the city would be at the heart of everything, easily reachable by public transport. It would be a fantastic race for the drivers and the fans alike.

Q: Does the fact that this layout has been designed by Populous, the architects of the new Silverstone, make it feel more realistic?

A: It certainly feels like the real deal to me in the simulator. It engages you instantly because it is a street circuit. All the Formula 1 drivers love street circuits like Monaco.

The London GP vision would obviously be very different in character because the urban geography here is more open, the roadways wider, the space between the buildings greater. This would make the track stop-start in places, something akin to Singapore. But having spent plenty of time racing the circuit, it really delivers from a driver perspective.

It is great fun and whereas in Melbourne we are a little extracted from the city centre in Albert Park, and in Monaco there simply isn’t the context of racing past globally-recognizable landmarks like Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, on this circuit we are right there. That’s what makes this track so inspiring.

I’m really impressed with the detail that’s gone into planning the circuit. They’ve taken everything into account, even down to fitting the garages and hospitality around the trees, as if the city really was tailor-made to stage the race!

Q: A few years ago Bernie Ecclestone proposed a medal system for Formula 1. Wouldn’t it be great if this was an Olympic Grand Prix, with medals as well as points for the winners?

A: Obviously there is a huge buzz around London because of the Games and in a way, yes, it would make perfect sense if London could host an associated Formula 1 race with medals as the ultimate prize. I am not personally convinced by a medal system for the regular championship, but the notion of racing for a one-off gold medal in an Olympic year is pretty appealing.

Q: So, it’s the last lap of the inaugural London GP and you’re side-by-side with Michael Schumacher into Trafalgar Square. Who gets through Admiralty Arch first?

A: There’s a lot of history in that place and one part of you says ‘Don’t damage anything’ while the other says ‘Go on, add a bit of history of your own!’ And that’s one part of the circuit that has to be seen to be believed, it would certainly separate the men from the boys.

Q: With all the discussion of a London GP, what about Silverstone?

A: Let’s be clear. London is currently the focus of the world’s attention and it is an interesting time to theorize what a London GP might look like, and I think Santander have created an inspiring vision as well as a technically viable concept based on a forensically detailed approach. But plainly this is an idea, whereas Silverstone is a reality and a very good one too, and it remains very much the heart of Formula 1 in the UK and the home of the best race every season.

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