With Oct. 16 marking one year since Dan Wheldon's passing at the Las Vegas IndyCar finale, RACER.com reflects on some of the popular Briton's career milestones. This time: 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button on racing Wheldon in Formula Fords in the UK.
When 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button was climbing the ranks in karting, he looked up to Dan Wheldon. He was 18 months younger and describes Wheldon as “always the man to beat.” In fact, at times, the future World Champion was worried whether or not he could beat him.
Because of the age difference, Wheldon was often a step ahead and when Button graduated to cars in UK Formula Ford in 1998, his old rival was already a race winner in the category and title favorite. Button showed his class with a shock championship title, with Wheldon third. Their final – and arguably greatest – battle came in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival that year.
“I have some very special memories of racing with Dan,” recalls Button in Korea, just a few days short of the first anniversary of Wheldon's death. “We'd raced each other all year in Formula Ford and had a couple of collisions and moments when we fell out.
“The Formula Ford Festival was a great race. I was fighting with him and Marcos Ambrose. Me and Marcos collided with two laps to go and so Dan was behind me and he hit me up the back into the last corner! I ran wide, he came up alongside me and I beat him over the line by about a foot! After that, we went in different directions. I went to F3 and he went to the States.”
But Button doesn't pick the Festival as the greatest race he and Wheldon had together. The reason is simple; they had so many great battles that he cannot pick one out.
“I had hundreds of races with Dan from when I was eight years old in karting,” says Button. “We used to race together in Cadets. I've got video of us both racing in 1989 at the Clay Pigeon Super Prix, when he had the big number 1 on his kart and I was quite a new boy. We had some great battles. Dan was there, Justin Wilson too...some really good drivers all fighting hard. Those days are very special, with memories up here [taps his head] as well as on video.”