“I first came across Jenson when I was a novice racing karts in Wigan in 1988 on a motorcycle track called Three Sisters. There was this other kid on the grid, it was chucking it down with rain, it was his last race as a novice and he was faster than me. I was impressed, the way he drove, his posture, his style, and I realised he was going to be a challenge. We became great rivals, representing Britain in Europe, both winning championships, always at the front, and Dan Wheldon was right up there at the front too.
I thought I was going to get stuck in karting but we both went up to Formula Ford, him two years before me, and we both won the Formula Ford Festival so there was great respect between us as well as rivalry. He was knocking on the door at Williams when I was still in Formula Ford. He had good backing. My path proved more difficult, but I’d beaten him in karts and knew I could make it in the end.
By 2002 we were both on the same grid again, Jenson in the Williams and I’d got the drive with Minardi before moving to BAR Honda first as test and reserve driver and then in the race seat. Amazingly, in 2005, Jenson and I were team-mates for one race at BAR, when Takuma Sato was unwell in Malaysia, and it was really funny after all the history we’d shared since ’88. It was bizarre, that race. His engine blew up after two laps, I was sliding around on Jenson’s oil, and then – as I passed his stationary car –I started sliding on my own oil and my engine blew up. That was it. He had an exceptionally smooth style, very good in mixed conditions. I remember watching him at Rye House in cadet karting; his dad John Button had sent him out in the rain on slicks and he was just pounding round in the rain, honing his smooth style, and that must have helped him later on.
Much later I was watching him race along with karting ace Terry Fullerton and Terry said to me, “That kid’s going to be very good in cars. That smooth style will stand him in good stead.” Jenson was my big rival so I wasn’t going to admit he might be right. Now, there’s no envy at all, none whatsoever. I’m just so happy that Jenson went on to win the F1 World Championship. I won the World Endurance Championship and our old karting mate Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500 twice. We all knew we were good enough and so I’m just chuffed that we all won those championships.”