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Button aiming to think his way to another victory
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Button aiming to think his way to another victory
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Sep 2010   |  9:09 am GMT  |  42 comments

This afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix is wonderfully poised, with Fernando Alonso starting on pole but Jenson Button alongside him.

Alonso’s race will be about dominating the start and then relentless pace. Button has been thinking about his race since Friday and has gone with a plan which, if it works, will spring a trap on Alonso and the others at the pits stops.

Button: The thinking man's racer? (Darren Heath)


The McLaren drivers were given the option of running with higher downforce and the F Duct drag reducing wing, or running a standard Monza low downforce set up.

The latter gives you approximately 8km/h additional straight line speed, whereas the former will give you better speed in the Lesmo corners, Ascari and the Parabolica and will help keep the car more stable under braking.

The drivers tried both on Friday and Button opted for the high downforce, Hamilton the low downforce. It was a free choice, the team was not looking to split the strategies, merely to give the drivers a choice.

“You have got more downforce, so you can brake later. You can carry more speed through corners, ” said Button, explaining what he liked about his choice. “You have to push very hard. It is different to running low downforce. You have got to make the time up in the corners whereas with low downforce most of the time comes in the straight and you obviously have to tip-toe through the corners. But when you have high downforce you have got to be aggressive and you have really got to push the car. I feel it worked in qualifying. We were not 100 per cent sure it was going to, but for the race I think we are looking good.”

Button has always favoured running a little more downforce for the reasons he has given above. It goes back to 2004 when he got a podium result with the BAR Honda using this tactic and he’s had it in his head that it’s a good thing ever since.

But to Button’s mind, the key to the high downforce set up is that it will protect the tyres more by stopping them from sliding. Combined with his ability to look after a set of tyres and keep them performing for longer than his rivals – something we have seen several times this year already – he believes that he can run longer on the first stint than Alonso and then undercut him when he makes his stop. The harder tyres Alonso will be going onto will take a couple of laps to come up to speed and that is where Button must do the damage.

Although he is shown as 12km/h slower on the speed trap than Alonso in the qualifying print outs, there was a tow involved in that and the difference through the individual speed traps of each sector is very consistently 4km/h. So if he can get ahead of Alonso at the stops, he will not be a sitting duck to be repassed on the straights.

Time will tell and Massa, a good starter who is on the clean side of the grid, will also be a major threat on the first lap.

This reminds me of some of Alain Prost’s races, where he thought through and planned something for the race early in the weekend and executed it perfectly.

The bonus for Button is that he did so well in qualifying, while his team mate Hamilton, who should have been faster, made mistakes and starts fifth.

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42 Comments
  1. Banjo says:

    Here’s hoping for an exciting race!

  2. David W says:

    Good for button, he need’s to produce a win really this weekend to still have a chance in the driver championship.

  3. neil m says:

    It’s going to be fascinating at the start. Will JB’s high downforce allow him to get to the first corner first? All he has to do then is avoid Vettel as he flies of the circuit while pushing too hard.

    One small point, I don’t think Jenson tried the low downforce package, that was just Lewis. Jenson must have made the decision just on the basis of the data. Great blog, thanks

  4. Luke says:

    Another excellent article!

  5. Rafael says:

    Interesting strategy by Jenson, and although it could work I still think it could handicap him. (a) At the first 3 or 5 laps, the field will be bunched together and anyone behind him could easily grab a tow and slingshot past him prior to the braking zone or a couple meters after a corner. (b) This may not sit well with die hard Button fans, but I think this sort of set-up also highlights his shortcomings in terms of car control: he needs more grip to be able to brake later whereas his opposition is working with lesser grip levels but could still probably manage to brake as late.

    Yes, the whole looking out for tires thing might just work; but I’m thinking, by the time it comes good he’s been left so far down due to a disadvantage in the straights. Oh well, may the best man win. Forza Ferrari! Forza Alonso!

  6. Sam says:

    Interesting choice, got to be all about the start for Button, if he can keep Massa and Hamilton (who will be annoyed with himself for qualifying so low when on pure pace it could be argued he could, maybe should, have been on pole) behind him then this could work very well for him. Poor start, and it could be something of a diaster with a first lap entirely taken up by trying not to slip further and further back…..

  7. Pete Furtek says:

    Massa has failed to get the hard tyre to work pretty much all season. I don’t think he’ll finish on the podium. Brilliant qualifying lap by Alonso. Should be close…

    1. Bevan says:

      Hindsight has proven your first 2 points invalid.He set his fastest laps on the hard tyre & finished on the podium.There’s nowt wrong with our Felipe,its that darned team order fiasco,he’s lost motivation.Can’t say I blame him either.

  8. Richard Foster says:

    Very intelligent approach which should give Button a head start on his rivals. This is where Button has the edge of Hamilton. Hamilton can attack and is fast but has yet to demonstrate any real intelligence on the track.

    I hope Button is vindicated in his choice and goes on to win the race!

    1. Samuel says:

      I dont think thats fair to say. The decision wasnt Button’s alone, he had some input from his engineers. Plus, this is more of a gamble than it is ‘intelligence’. Im sure your perceived ‘intelligence’ has helped Jenson quite well in 4th place for the championship while Lewis is 2nd, about 20 points adrift.

  9. Robert Lujan says:

    I have to admit Button has really impressed this season. He has shown that he really deserved to be Champion. He is a thinking mans racer. His decisions before and during the races are extraordinary! I would personally like to hear his radio transmissions if only to understand better how he comes to his choices. Maybe James can help?

  10. Usi says:

    Its not going to happen, sorry Jenson. Had it been Massa or Webber or Vettel on the pole he might had some chance, but with Alonso, no way. Alonso is a willy fox and I am also expecting a charged up Hamilton.

  11. craigyj says:

    James – Has there been any indication from McLaren or JB himself as to how many more laps he can eke out of the tires in the first stint before they go off?

    Will be interesting to see how it pans out, particularly the first lap or two with all the different permiatations of top speed vs downforce, and not to forget driver error thrown in.

    Unfortunately not much chance of rain according to the forecasts I’ve seen so that doesn’t look as though it’s going to be a factor.

    I’m predicting an alonso win, with the two McLarens making up the podium, in what order….. Unsure but I’ll plump for JB

    1. craigyj says:

      sorry that last sentence doesn’t read so well, JB 2nd with LH 3rd :)

  12. Thomas says:

    I was also thinking about the start here. Felipe is usually such a good starter, he could very well be first into the corner – he will probably prefer that and then let Alonso pass him in the pits later, while the team would prefer a 1-2 in the right order from the go.

    How big is the difference between the clean and dirty side here James?

  13. Tom Gower says:

    Martin Brundle said that once they get off the grid Buttons extra downforce should help provide better traction, I notice Jenson said after P2 on Friday he was surprised he was 8 tenths fast during the beginning of the session. He must be feeling pretty confident.

  14. Eamonn Mc Cauley says:

    James on Friday when they were running both set ups. Button was just a bit quicker than Hamilton in 2 and 3 sectors and slower in 1 but then in qualifing was as quick in sector 1 but 2 10ths faster in 2 and 3 sectors.Which lead me to beleave Jenson was going slower than he could in practice. Making Lewis think the 2 setups were similar. Is there anything in this? Surely the team would have seen this? Are they teaching Lewis throught expernce? Making him the complet driver in a few years time? “Car control” he’s the best but lacks race craft. He let’s the team do alot of his thing for him when on track. If this is ture then Jenson is the perfect indirect teacher for him. If you know what I mean? Would Mclaren think this way or is that to far sighted? Some poeple can only learn throught experience. I don’t mean this as a put down as I would class my self as a bit like that.

  15. Gary Smith says:

    I’m pretty sure Button said earlier in the year that there’s more to winning a race than outright speed and this is another example of JB having the confidence to try something a little different to achieve a good result. Good on McLaren for letting him try, too.

    Even if he doesn’t get the best start and is jumped by Massa, Webber has similar top speed to Jenson so the main threat from behind will probably come from his hard-charging team mate, until the pit stops where hopefully JB will be in a position to pull out a gap and romp home to victory number 3 with Massa second and Alonso third! At least, that’s what I hope.

  16. Frank Dernie says:

    I am with Jenson in this. People get carried away with enthusiasm for a low drag (NOT low downforce as so many people keep saying, there is -nothing- good about low downforce…) setup at Monza but all the tests I have done have shown it is easy to go too far. Simulations always underestimate the optimum downforce level for pace.
    If a slightly higher downforce level gives a couple of tenths a lap this results in a better grid position (it is easier to overtake people on Saturday by qualifying in front of them than having to battle past during the race) The vulnerable period is the drag to the first corner, and maybe other straights on the first lap. The other downside is that if you catch someone slower you may not be able to overtake on the track, only by pitstop strategy, which the good teams are wise to.
    If you gain 0.2 secs by going for 1 hole more rear wing, say, that represents about 20 meters at top speed, which means anybody following you with less wing will not be able to overtake, whatever their top speed since they will be that far behind.
    I know optimists who think they can have the pace, and the top speed. They can’t.

  17. Luke A says:

    James regard you saying this:-

    “The bonus for Button is that he did so well in qualifying, while his team mate Hamilton, who should have been faster, made mistakes and starts fifth.”

    So do you think that if Hamilton had of put together a near faultless lap then with his low downforce setup, McLaren were actually expecting him to be slightly faster and thus possibly grab have grabbed pole?

    1. James Allen says:

      Well Button certainly felt that is how it would work out. He was surprised when he came into the unilateral room and saw the times and asked what had happened to Lewis

  18. NJoy says:

    You’re talking about Button like he has already executed the plan and won the GP.

  19. SeanG says:

    I love these “look how smart Jenson Button is” theories.

  20. Bevan says:

    Guess we’ll have to see how “thought” works out in the race eh.As some are comparing Button with the great professor (minus the other 3 WDC’s without DD Diffusers)he should clean them all up this weekend & win honorable & try not to pinch a win via team telling other car to slow due to fuel critical radio messages that lack credibility.Here’s hoping Massa doesn’t find himself in front though,we can do without another manufactured result.

    1. SeanG says:

      Comparing Button to Prost is borders on insanity.

      Its like saying that Brawn designed a great car last year. They did not. Honda designed a great car in 2008. That car had the Brawn label in 2009.

      1. mtb says:

        Agree completely with your first sentence.

  21. Faisal says:

    IMO it’s more down to Button’s driving style than him taking a ‘gamble’. He definitely is uncomfortable with the normal Monza setup. His driving style is all about being cautious around corners and he needs the grip more than other drivers would. So I suspect it’s not tactics, it’s being forced to go in one direction having no option of other way.

    Although high DF setup will give you a good pace over single lap, it might not help in longer runs. Let’s see what happens, I can be wrong though

  22. Santiago says:

    Hello James, very interesting post as usually! What do you know about Ferrari’s engine here? Do you think they really have more power and less fuel consumption? It would be an important threat to this strategy if:

    - Massa overtakes Button in the first lap (more speed)
    - Alonso opens a significant gap (due to less fuel loaded in the car)

    I think this update would be really important for the championship, do you know something about it?

  23. Dom says:

    James your twitter page doesn’t seem to be working for me – most recent post is 11 days ago? I have tried safari and chrome but no joy :(

    1. peter says:

      James has explained this half a dozen times already. Twitter is down

      1. James Allen says:

        It’s the integration of our site with Twitter. They’ve changed settings.

  24. Érico says:

    If he can’t snatch the lead at the start, he better be able to defend himself down the straights and pull some miraculous laps in clean air. Sounds simple…

  25. Azlas says:

    James Hamilton made mistakes because mclaren sent him out right behind webber. He had no downforce through the corners in webber’s wake.

    1. James Allen says:

      But he got a heck of a tow!

  26. SPIDERman says:

    Hamilton thinks he is not badly off as long as he manages to jump ahead Weber and beat him in the race..He is right.

    He only needs to finish ahead of Weber to keep the WDC race alive since any of the of Alonso or Button or Massa win the race the damage to Hamilton Will be minimal and i think he can easily make up the deficit in the upcoming races regardless.

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/86634

  27. Robert Lujan says:

    Revised Grid? Anyone know what happened to Timo Glock?

  28. Alberto Dietz says:

    Button, Massa, Rosberg.

  29. SennaCeccotto12 says:

    Victory Pole and fastest lap for Alonso any critics?

    Salut

  30. mtb says:

    Alonso thought himself to victory and Vettel to fourth place. Congratulations to both drivers.

  31. Matt B says:

    Im getting so bored with these “intelligent Button outwits Hamilton” statements.

    Button has been outperformed by Hamilton pretty much all season, but as soon as he finishes ahead of him once, he’s a god.

    And please, the comparisons with Prost are a touch flattering.

    The bias in the media is incredibly obvious, just read Brundle’s latest column.

    1. mtb says:

      It is beyond ridiculous.

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