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What does Button have to do now?
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What does Button have to do now?
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Aug 2009   |  8:24 am GMT  |  37 comments

Jenson Button had another low key weekend in Valencia, his fourth in a row. It’s not the end of the world, championships are won by keeping the scoreboard ticking over and Button has scored in every race.

Plenty to think about

Plenty to think about

But unlike the previous races, Valencia was a race where the Brawn car was the fastest – for time really since Monaco – and this meant a chance to take a much needed win or podium to release some of the pressure which has been building on him.

Instead Rubens Barrichello was the faster car all weekend, qualified well on a high fuel load and won the race. Jenson made a mistake in qualifying when his finger was jolted as he went over a kerb and he went up two gears by mistake.

It put him 5th on the grid. From there with Vettel retiring and Kovalainen fading, he should have finished third at worst.

However he was tentative at the start and from there he raced to seventh place.

After the race he said that he would be more aggressive in Spa, which is a message he needed to send out, because what we saw at the start in Valencia gave his opposition a clear message that he was thinking of the championship as he steered into the first corner. Vettel might have been expected to be doing the same, but there was a whisper around the pit lane before the race that his engine might not last so he had nothing to lose. Button knew this.

Neither do Raikkonen or Rosberg, who surged past Button, have anything to lose. They are not in the championship fight. Button is likely to find himself surrounded by the same characters in Spa, where the Red Bull should be the fastest car again and he will be scrapping for a podium.

However the picture is more complicated; with this win, Rubens Barrichello is now most certainly in the championship hunt. He’s had the upper hand on Jenson lately and this result adds to Jenson’s woes because with Mark Webber breathing down his neck, he would be thinking that soon the Brawn team’s main effort would be focussing on him for the title. Instead Barrichello’s win has opened up the championship again and made Jenson’s life more complicated.

“It is better to be consistent and not crash, but if you are consistent and get two points it is not enough,” said Button after the race. “I am going to go to Spa and be more aggressive, for sure. In every way, not just driving, but with the strategy and with the tyres.

“It is where we have got to be, because otherwise it is going to be slowly eaten away. It is a very difficult season this year because we have had some really poor weekends and some really strong weekends, and this was the first time when we have had a strong car that I have not been able to get the most out of it.

“That is the most frustrating thing. We have to turn that around.”

Button looked pretty edgy all weekend, you can tell a lot from a drivers’ body language and he has looked remarkably relaxed at time when you wouldn’t have expected him too. Last weekend after a nice long break, with a big points lead and knowing he had the fastest car there he should have looked a lot more at ease than he did.

Perhaps the realisation that the finish line is in sight and the greatest dream of his life is within reach, could have made him tense up a bit. We saw the same thing with Damon Hill in 1996. But he came through in the end.

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37 Comments
  1. Stevie P says:

    Button got squeezed by Vettel into the pit wall, he had nowhere to go – other than perhaps move into the pit exit lane, which Brundle alluded to – however would he have been penalised for such a move, thus lost more places? By having nowhere to go, he eased off the gas and was passed on the outside… it happens in the pack; some you win, some you lose.

    Someone else posted on a different thread that Button (with Webber behind him) was close to passing Alonso early in the race… and what would have happened then regarding Button letting Webber past, due to the incident at the chicane?

    Sure Button’s going to be under-pressure, he’s in a situation he’s never been in before within F1. He just needs to keep scoring points and it will come to him… as he himself points out “the others” keep collecting points, but they alternate as to who takes the bigger points.

    It’s the first time that he really hasn’t got the maximum out of the car, when the car itself has been good.

    I noticed Ross Brawn have a quiet word with Jenson, after the race… Ross has been there and done it; he’ll be a calming and reassuring voice.

  2. “but there was a whisper around the pit lane before the race that his engine might not last so he had nothing to lose.”

    How did they know? I thought it was a fresh unit. If they knew about it, they shouldn’t have put it in the car right? Or are Renault engines prone to a particular fault and the only unit available happened to have it? But then if they knew that they shouldn’t have taken it to Valencia.
    Guess I’m just curious on how it actually works.

    1. Sieb says:

      Yes James, please help us out on this one.
      Is Vettel/Renault just bad luck, driver related or maybe politics.

  3. The other cold one says:

    It has to be hard having won so many at the beginning to slide back into the midfield, while your teammate is at the front. But surely Button has experience of the midfield (and back of the grid by now) – but not in a championship winning position. Head down (but also up!!!), and remember the cliche: To finish first, first you have to finish…

  4. Ray.C. says:

    It’s interesting that you mention Jenson’s edginess, BBC commentators suggested, Mark Webber seemed “out of sorts” over the week-end.

    Unfortunately for Mark and Jenson, Lewis and Kimi have come to play and they’re not going to go away anytime soon.

    MW to a certain extent, but especially JB have good reason to be nervous.
    Red Bull may well be fastest at Spa, but I can’t help feeling it will be Kimi or Lewis.

    ["but there was a whisper around the pit lane before the race that his engine might not last so he had nothing to lose"]

    …where does this come from?
    Red Bull staff leaking info, or a calculated guess by rivals based on track temp, engine wear etc?

    1. James Allen says:

      That would be telling.

      1. Grabyrdy says:

        Whatever it was, Martin Brundle knew about it too (Beeb replays and comments yesterday). Makes you wonder why they didn’t try a different engine, and fix this one before it definitively died. Presumably it’s now past redemption. Maybe they didn’t have time.

  5. Aaron James says:

    First time since Monaco? What about Turkey, when Button made his (sure to be remarked on post-season) ‘Monster of a car’ comment?!

    1. James Allen says:

      He won the race, but the Red Bull was the faster car as I recall.

      1. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

        James,

        I was in Turkey and monitored the lap times on the hand-helds. Red Bull were matching Brawn in Sector Two (with the four-apex turn 8) and maybe a little quicker there, but Brawn had them more than covered over the rest of the lap, particularly in Sector Three. I sat in the grandstand in turn one, and that is another place where Brawn were visibly very able to put distance on Red Bull, as it looked more composed under braking while the Red Bull had a little charcteristic Adrian Newey twitchiness.

        Vettel got the pole with a light fuel load, but once Button got by after Vettel made the mistake he was consistently quicker lap-by-lap and pulled away. Even though he was able to catch Button up on his light second-stint of the three-stop strategy, Button actually ended up pulling away from him again.

  6. martin_tf says:

    I think he’s had his wake up call, we should see something better at Spa.

  7. swayze says:

    The thing that is helping Jenson is the fact that there is no single driver chasing him There are 3 (Although Vettel may be in trouble towards the end of the season regarding Engines)As you quite rightly stated Jenson has scored in every race But his race in Spain was compromised by Vettal at the start Had he been more aggressive he could have had a DNF against his name and then the press would have been shouting that he is leading the WDC by a good margin so has no need to be so agressive.

    Catch 22

    If i recall Ross Brawn stated before the race that the start “is what it is” (and i took to mean there is nothing to be done about them.
    Although i agree he cannot continue to lose points like he has been doing so eventually has to be more agressive.

    At Spa it would not be a disaster (for Jenson) if Vettal won and Webber was second as long as Jenson kept in touch with Rubens

    James do you think Red Bull will now favour Webber?

    1. James Allen says:

      Will be interesting to see. Vettel’s engine situation is dire, with six races to go

      1. Michael C says:

        Why are these problems happening to Vettel James – any inside information?

      2. Martin Collyer says:

        James, can you provide a full run-down of the engine situation for the front-runners please?

  8. chris says:

    Jenson has had a few shaky starts and he needs to address that area of his game. It took him the whole first stint in Valencia to mentally regroup and get back on the pace after his poor start. I would like to see Jenson get a little bit more fire in his belly and to try and get in to the heads of his championship rivals.

    Vettels engine situation is a prime opportunity for Jenson and the Brawn team to go on the offensive and win the off track psychological battle.

    1. Stevie P says:

      “It took him the whole first stint in Valencia to mentally regroup and get back on the pace after his poor start”

      I disagree Chris… once the first few laps were out of the way and he’d been told to give 8th place to Webber, my hunch is that the team told Button to drop back from Webber to preserve his tyres \ keep the car cool, for when the pit-stop cycle began – his real opportunity to make progress through the field.

      He’d been hassling Alonso and almost passed him – one of the few attempts at an over-take at Valencia – he’d also pulled away from Webber intially.

      His actual start was fantastic! The crux is qualifying was bad for him… thus he started in the pack and from there, anything can happen and it did.

      As Swayze states above, if he’d gone to get past Vettel and ended up in the wall… the media would be having a field day “he’s lost it”, “it’s over” etc, etc.

      As it stands, he is in the box seat… qualify properly and continued reliability from the Brawn car and it’ll be ok.

      Has made for an interesting season though!! :-)

      1. chris says:

        “His actual start was fantastic!”

        His initial traction off the line was fantastic, but his holistic start sequence was poor. He had bad track position, got boxed in, lost a few places and managed to cut the chicane while under pressure from webber.

        You are correct about qualifying, he can do better there too.

      2. Stevie P says:

        I’ve never heard that before “holistic start sequence”… nice one Chris :-) And sure, I concur, he got boxed in by Vettel.

        Prior to the chicane he cut (as did Alonso!), he’d been pushed out by Alonso, almost hit him which allowed Webber to get alongside on the inside… again cutting the chicane was the only way to avoid a collision.

        I’m not trying to defend him, as such. We’re talking fractions of a milli-second, between him being in the “right” and “wrong” position. If Vettel had made a slightly better or slightly worse start, Button would not have had to ease off the gas or would have passed him (respectively) and then it’s a different scenario. All, if’s and but’s… ha ha.

        From his starting grid spot and Vettel’s angle on the grid… there wasn’t much else he could do, I feel.

        The crux, as Ross Brawn pointed out, when the car’s good he’s got to be at the “pointy end”.

  9. Werewolf says:

    I wonder if it is more difficult for established drivers. Jenson Button has a smooth flair and undoubted speed behind the wheel but several years of disappointing results. The World Championship must have seemed an impossible dream at times, especially last year; and following the disastrous decline in Honda’s competitiveness just as it appeared to be making real progress, he knows only two well that what appear to be career-changing opportunities can be cruelly snatched away.

    For the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, F1 titles are, perhaps, a logical career progression from their junior formulae successes.

    At the end of the day, the title is going to have to be won, it won’t present itself on a plate. We know Jenson can be aggressive because he has pulled off some terrific overtakes. He needs to keep pushing with confidence, for he has the ability, and not let excessive caution hinder his progress.

  10. monktonnik says:

    He really does need to finish all races if at all possible. Even if that means playing the percentages and taking only 2 points. The last thing we want is a replay of Brazil 2007 where Lewis was throwing it off the track to pass Alonso.

    I guess that if he was more aggressive with strategy then at least he is only looking at losing a couple of positions if he runs a less than optimal fuel load. But a couple of positions from pole is better than a couple from 5th!

    Although it was disappointing to see JB get sawmped at the start and get the penalty, he has at least got some breathing space. The fact is that he is 20 points ahead of his nearest external rival with a maximum of 60 to go. With so many people around him who are capable of victory, the likelihood is that they will be taking points off each other as well as him. I think that you have to pretty much rule Vettel out now as he is guaranteed to take at least one grid penalty before the end of the season. I guess if JB keeps a similar margin to Rubens, they will have to plump for one or the other in the next 2 or 3 races.

    I think that all the top 4 drivers deserve to win the title, but please let it be JB’s year in 2009!

  11. Andy Fov says:

    Button can afford to lose three points to Rubens in each of the last six races and still win the championship.

    I think Lewis is going to win another 2 or 3 races this year, and in many instances Rubens is only going to be 2nd or 3rd.

    Button can afford to come 4th in every race, and if the best Rubens can do is come second in each then Button will still win the WDC.

    I still think Button’s looking good for the win. I think it’ll take reliability issues / freaky weather for him to lose out… Especially when it’s likely the last 5 circuits should take place in hooter climates that suit Brawn’s setup.

    1. monktonnik says:

      “Especially when it’s likely the last 5 circuits should take place in hooter climates that suit Brawn’s setup.”

      I long for a Hooter climate ;)

      1. Andy Fov says:

        … Argh, another of my dodgy Freudian typos. :)

      2. monktonnik says:

        Shame,

        It would have been something positive about global warming.

  12. Antoine says:

    I don’t think Button won 6 races by mistake, he just need to remember that, I’m always scared when drivers decide to change their approach into a more aggressive one. Now he’ll try to win the race on the first corner in Spa, we all know that’s not possible :-(, just remain confident and the title is your JB :-)

    1. Werewolf says:

      Absolutely – those 6 wins were neither mistakes nor good fortune; but the championship must still be won. Remember Carlos Reutemann in ’81: Piquet was the up and coming challenger but Reutemann adopted such a careful approach late season he lost a very good chance of the title; and I well remember his disbelief when afterwards. I know every year is different and Jenson’s lead appears assuring but he cannot afford to sit back and hope a safe small haul of points will suffice.

      Rubens Barrichello is a solid, talented and immensely likeable driver who has every year and on merit out-performed his team mates on occasions but I remain utterly convinced that, overall in 2009, Jenson has the greater speed and should, generally, be ahead. An on-form JB should, therefore, out qualify and out race his esteemed colleague. Ergo, the issues are Webber and Vettel, whom he will have to race for the title at least occasionally before the end of the year.

  13. Chris McDonnell says:

    Excellent article as always James.

    The biggest problem I see for Jenson in Spa is how the car will react. Brawn have admitted that they have no idea if their tyre problems will return and that must surely being playing on his mind in the lead up to all the remaining GP’s.

    I suppose the flip side of that is Vettel might be thinking about his engine and how reliable will it be if he pushes to 18,000 rpm. Maybe the most interesting battle in Spa will be between Barrichello and Webber!

  14. StaffsSteve says:

    I think that Jenson Button’s Valencia drive was very mature. I think back to many occasions in 2007 when Lewis Hamilton may have benefited from a more measured approach.

    Was he too tentative at the start? It would have been very easy to have collided during that congested first lap and have come away from the weekend with no points or even face the wrath of the FIA and aquire a grid penalty for Spa. The two points gained may well turn out to be crucial come the seasons end.
    I think that Vettel was certainly intent on keeping Button back and that Jenson was right to choose discretion over valor. With that decision he had to accept the risk of loosing more places. He then attempted to recover the places lost by having a stab at Alonso and later putting pressure on Webber. Ok, the Alonso attempt did not stick but he eventually passed Webber albeit via pitstops.

    Should he be more aggressive from now on? Perhaps, but it would be unwise to take unneccessary risks. He has gained his current advantage with consistent finishing over the year. He still has a sizeable championship lead. If given the choice I am sure all of his pursuers would prefer to be 18 points ahead of the rest at this stage of the season.

  15. antony obrien says:

    I’d be relieved if i was Button, the car was going backwards at a rate of knots and they’ve halted that; he just needs to sort himself out. Thats a darn slight easier than trying to get a dog of a car onto the podium. He can lose 2.5 points per race to his rivals and still win it. I fully expect him to.

  16. Peter Bewers says:

    Disappointing , but I am sure Jensen has more left in the tank yet and he will fight back.
    Peter Bewers Jersey C.I.

  17. Eric says:

    At the cooler races where their car isn’t performing I think Brawn should play a wild card. Their tyre heat issue is because they don’t put a lot of load on the tyres and this hurts them on raw pace over a single lap, but benefits them over a race distance. So why not, at Spa, fuel the car up for a one stop strategy and take advantage of low tyre wear to move from 10th (assuming he gets into Q3) to ~4th-5th (or possibly even better if it rains because of the larger window). This way Button is guaranteed to not be passed at the start by the KERS cars and would maximise the odds of getting the most out of a bad situation. Then, on a return to a hotter race, go back to a more standard strategy.

    Alonso showed with his two WDC how it is possible to defend an early lead attained with a superior car by playing the probability game. Jenson should emulate this if he does not have a winning car.

    1. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

      The issue with not being able to get heat into the tires is that the tires generate less grip, which means that the car doesn’t handle as smoothly and slides. When the car slides, the tires grain, thus the car loses even more grip. (While the tires would pick up temperature, they would get too hot as they shred; the trick is to get them into a sweet spot temperature range to maximize grip and balance of the car.)

      The damage done to rear tires under this condition would be exacerbated under a heavy fuel strategy. This is exactly the problem that Button faced in Hungary when they gave him a large fuel load after they checked his rear suspension in the aftermath of the Massa incident.

      1. Eric says:

        Interesting. Thanks for the insight.

  18. Werewolf says:

    There seems a lot of support here for the cautious approach, base on maturity and championship lead. I accept McLaren are in the ascendency and maybe Ferrari too will affect the podium positions, also that Red Bull are not (certainly consistently) the fastest of the opposition.

    There are still enough races left, though, for a turnaround. More worryingly, Jenson cannot statistically expect to finish all of them. I really do not feel the time has yet come to play the percentages and at least one more win is needed; and I suspect JB knows this too.

    On a personal level, I am a Jenson supporter. I admire his driving style and I find him a very likeable individual, both in person and in interviews. I also used to follow his father John’s rallycross exploits in VWs at Lydden years ago and actually got hit by a very small piece of debris following a roll at Chesson’s! Whilst I would hate to see JB throw this one away, Mark Webber is a man that also commands respect and I cannot say I dislike Vettel in any way either. It should be a terrific end to the season.

  19. Martin Collyer says:

    Spa, weather likely to be cool maybe/probably wet, not the best conditions for the Brawn as far as we know.

    First corner is La Source, often we see pile-ups at La Source on first lap, best place for Jenson would be pole but how to do that on a track with weather that probably favours Red Bull?

    Monza, weather likely to be warm/hot, much better conditions for Brawn.

    First corner the Rettifillio chicane (please no complaints about the spelling, I don’t have time to check it) lots of pile-ups on lap one at Rettifillio down the years, so pole would be a good for Jenson to be, with a much better chance of achieving that on a typical Monza day.

    Then there is KERS to consider, both these circuits likely to favour KERS, is’s going to get interesting.

  20. john g says:

    any feeling that button is starting to choke? he started off the year with absoltely nothing to lose. now he has a championship to lose and maybe isn’t dealing with the pressure so well.

    having said that, it’s easier for the guys chasing to throw caution to the wind and really go for it, whereas jenson doesn’t seem to want to go for the wins, and is driving in his shell a bit, just trying to keep the points ticking over…

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