Take nothing away from Jenson Button, that was a mighty lap this afternoon to take pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix, but Sebastian Vettel is left once again thinking about what might have been.
The German, who is the Brawn drivers’ closest rival in the drivers’ championship, felt that he had the car today to challenge for pole position, but when it mattered he came upon Kazuki Nakajima on a hot lap, which wasn’t so hot and he lost vital time. Like so many occasions this season, Vettel has been thwarted, but F1 is all about making things happen for yourself and somehow Button and Brawn are doing that more succesfully than Red Bull and Vettel.
Vettel was extremely light in that final session, some 16 kilos lighter than Jenson Button, which is about eight laps less! No wonder he felt he could have had pole. The weight difference is worth 4 tenths of a second!
That said, I expect Vettel to dominate the next two races in Istanbul and Silverstone, because of the RBR car’s performance on medium and fast corners.
“We had a strong car today and should have been quicker,” said Vettel. “I wasn’t really blocked, Nakajima was on a timed lap, but he was three seconds off the pace and that’s why I caught him up very quickly. ”
Vettel did a two lap run, but had team mate Webber behind him so he couldn’t drop back enough to get himself a gap to Nakajima.
“The car would have been good enough to have a shot at pole, yes. The first runs showed that we were extremely competitive. We had a good chance to put the car on the front row, it’s very tight for pole position and you never know what you could have done.”
Jenson Button has the pole, though and he is in great shape for the race. Ross Brawn says that he has 20 laps of fuel in the car, which is a fair amount, it’s two laps more than Raikkonen has in his car.
Button described the pole lap as, “One of the best laps I’ve ever done.” What was impressive to me was the way he built up to the final lap. He wasn’t happy with the balance of the car and was being dominated by his team mate in practice and even the early part of qualifyiing, but he kept calm, made some changes and then delivered the perfect lap when it really mattered.
There’s no hype here, all the engineers from other teams whom I speak to all say that Button is driving exceptionally well this season. He’s qualifying well and racing well. There is no doubt that he was helped by the switch of strategy in Spain, where he went onto a two stop while Rubens was kept on a three. If Rubens had been given a similar switch he would have stayed in front of Button. As it was he lost time in his third stint and fell behind.
But Button has been making things happen for himself mostly, with performances like today’s.
Ferrari looked pretty competitive this afternoon and it was good to see Raikkonen back on the front row. Massa had a ding with the barriers early on and never quite rediscovered his rhythm after that. But that was nothing compared to the shame of Lewis Hamilton who made a mistake under braking for Mirabeau and broke the left rear suspension on the barriers.
“It was my mistake and I’m sorry to the team that I wasted their time,” said Hamilton. “It looked like we had a better shot at winning the race, but these things happen and we just have to learn from it. I locked my rear wheels and tried to catch it and hit the barrier.”
Quite a few teams who had two cars in the top ten split their strategies, running one car lighter for a shot at pole and running the other car heavier as a hedge against a safety car in the race. There is a 50% chance of a safety car here in Monaco and if it falls at the wrong moment it will wreck your race.