McLaren’s Jenson Button has been working up to the Australian Grand Prix, scene of his first win of the 2009 season, by sampling a little red-hot tintop action courtesy of the country’s brutal V8 Supercar series.
Through the good offices of McLaren sponsor Vodafone, which also backs reigning Australian V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, Jense got to have a go in a Holden Commodore – presumably marking him out as a Holden lad for life, forever attracting the opprobrium of the Ford faithful in a series that attracts some of the world’s most passionate and tribal motorsport fans.
This also meant, of course, that Whincup was let loose in a McLaren F1 car, although true to the team’s usual policy on these occasions, it was not the current one but the two-year-old MP4-23 with which Lewis Hamilton won his world title.
Speaking about Whincup’s Albert Park debut, Button said: “[It] is a great place to experience a Formula 1 car. It’s not a big open track, it’s a street circuit and it’s very bumpy. It’s going to be a hell of an experience.
“Jamie did a great job. He’s a racing driver, so he knows how to control a car. It was pretty dusty out there, so probably not the best time to be jumping behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car for the first time. But I could tell he had a lot of fun.”
And, after taking his turn in the championship-leading Commodore, he was as excited as a small boy and showing none of the world-weariness that might very well come from a 10-year top-flight motorsport career and a hard-fought world championship.
He said: “That was great! It was difficult to get used to: I was surprised by how much grip it had. I was carrying a lot of speed, but turned into a right-hander, got a lot of under-steer and ran off the Tarmac onto the painted run-off.
“But it was all good. In a Formula 1 car I’d have been closing my eyes at that point!”
And Whincup was little better, saying: “Jumping into a Formula 1 car is almost like going into space, or flying a fighter jet. It’s right up there with the best thing I could ever do.
“The car just does everything you’d want it to. The strain on my neck was amazing. The g-forces you feel are so much greater than I’d feel aboard my own race car. The F1 car is just a rocket ship. It’s another league.”
Now we have to hope that, following a lacklustre season-opener in Bahrain, we can feel equally excited when the full F1 lineup takes to the Albert Park track this weekend…