What’s happened to Jenson Button’s form?
McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Jun 2012   |  10:30 am GMT  |  193 comments

One of the most stark stories of recent weeks has been the decline in form of Jenson Button, who won the first race of the season but has now fallen to eighth in the driver’s standings, 43 points adrift of championship leader Lewis Hamilton.

With seven different race winners and no-one running away with the championship, it’s by no means a disaster. But the McLaren driver knows he needs to get on top of his set up issues and get back onto the podium as soon as possible to keep himself in contention.

The problem, as always in F1, is not one thing. Button has struggled recently with this generation of Pirelli tyres to get heat into the front tyres, especially for qualifying. He has lost the “feeling”. McLaren runs its car very stiff at the front for aerodynamic reasons. Button has tried on several occasions using different brake materials, partly to generate more temperature from inside the wheel, as he did again in Montreal. But in trying to solve this front grip issue, his set up has moved away from the planted rear end of the car which his driving style requires.

Last year’s cars, with their exhaust blown diffusers, generated huge amounts of rear end downforce which gave Button the stable rear end he needs. This year’s F1 cars, without the EBD, move around a lot at the back, which Hamilton can live with but Button can’t. The McLaren seemed in winter testing and in the opening races to be reasonably strong at the rear relative to the others in this area, certainly enough for Button to feel good with it in February and March. But perhaps the development of the car since then has taken it away from what works for him. In Montreal he was particularly unlucky that some new directions he was trying out, including in rear suspension didn’t get the long run testing they needed on Friday as he lost most of the day with a drawn-out oil leak and gearbox change saga. So his problem with heavy tyre usage didn’t really show itself until race day, where he suffered high degradation.


“I haven’t got a clue what to do at the moment and every time we have good ideas we don’t seem to make any progress,” he said after the race. “I love driving an F1 car so I am confident every time I jump in and then after two laps there is no grip anywhere. Obviously the car with a certain set-up is very quick but what I was driving was not a winning car.

“It’s been the same for the last couple of races and I don’t know why because it is normally something I am pretty good at. I’m driving round 1.5 seconds slower than the leaders and one is my team-mate but I can’t go any quicker.”

Button’s post Canada debrief will have analysed why he had the problems with tyre degradation and will then look at solutions for Valencia which he can then try out in McLaren’s high-tech simulator at Woking before travelling out to Spain.

Button confirmed that the start point for this effort will be to work from Lewis Hamilton’s set up and then evolve from there, “The fist thing you do is set the car up like the other one and that’s how we’ll do it initially,” he said. “I won’t be as quick as him on those settings but then we can work from there and find a set up that works for me.”

It’s still early days in the championship, with 13 races still to go. A win or podium would put him right back into the hunt. He certainly can’t afford to languish in the doldrums for long.

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1

Well all drivers must encounter these problems and th manage to resolve them.

All I hear from Jason is excuse after excuse after excuse.

2

I will keep my comments restricted to the question about Jenson’s form. As I see it his form over the past five races is a reflection of weakness in the McLaren racing organization. He has not lost the ability to communicate what is happening with his car to his engineers. He definitely has not lost his skills as a driver. He is driving a car that his engineers don’t understand well enough to fix. This is a systemic problem at the MTC.

Since 2007 the race management team has played a role in losing two WDC’s and possibly a third this year. If the WCC ended today they would lose the constructor’s championship because of race management issues. To make a long post short McLaren has done more damage to it’s racing efforts than any of their drivers.

3

JB has two problems, one is where the engineering has gone and clearly at some point they took a wrong turn. Finding your way back when dealing with tenths and where every component impacts on another is tough, just as Raikkonen discovered in Montreal.

JB has lost his mental mojo as he seeks to compare himself against his team mate and the other GP winners.

His track record speaks for itself and he is treated with respect by all the other drivers.

His challenge is to trust and relax into his driving. Sounds easy but it is the biggest challenge of all.

4
Adrian Newey Jnr

Interesting that in an environment where JB should be doing well (ie conserving tyres) that its precisely this skill that is causing his problems.

5

Such venom against JB is unwarranted and prevalent on other sites as is the unctuous praise for LH. Reason goes out the window and vileness prevails. Seems people have an agenda. Pity. I have no doubt JB will be back as soon as McLaren settle their issue with LH. I think LH was on another emotional downer and JB’s successs this years is the price to retrieve LH from that. If SV had not had such a dominant Newey car last year, then JB would have been WDC. First beat your team mate – he did that and not by luck. Fast alone is not quick enough…

6

Complete nonsense!

Are you trying to convince everybody on here that McLaren are intentionally sabotaging Jenson’s car in order to emotionally ‘boost’ Lewis so he can re-sign with the Team? Pull the other one, mate!

Last year, Lewis imploded. Jenson was consistent. That was the difference. This year, Lewis is back to his old self and a lot wiser. The evidence is in the results. I’m glad Jenson beat him last year because it has shown Lewis that the Sun doesn’t shine out of his a$%, and that if he doesn’t focus 100% on racing he WILL be beaten. I think he has learn’t his lesson…

7

Well said Dave. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

8

Jenson is excellent at getting a car right and will crack this McLaren. People who can set cars up are rare, and they are what I would call specialists in the field. Lewis is not one of them. A good example is Damon, booted out of Williams, and with him went Williams last driver that could truly do it. Arrows started to show the effect of a guy who was great it, and Jordan had their best years with Damon as a driver (and yes I know 99 was a poor year for him, but look what happened to Jordan when he left). I think Frank realised how great Button COULD be at it and tried to resign him.

Mansell, Prost and Senna were all specialists to, and Damon apprenticed under all of these. Schumi & Alonso are the other drivers in the field who shine at doing this.

9

Excuses and Excuses.

If he had a perfect car. If he had his rear planted. If he could get heat into his tyres. If he could find grip.

This is the driver who lucks into a race win on a wet weekend because he had burnt his intermediates, and all we hear is he was so intelligent during the race.

Why can’t he use that intelligence to out drive an ill handling car.

The best drivers mask the deficiencies of their cars, while the average will advertise those deficiencies.

Button is good no doubt, he is much better than Brundle ever was, perhaps he is at par with an in form Coulthard. But anything else is just wishful thinking. Antony Davidson is even faster than Button.

It is laughable to find the inexperienced followers equating finishing position to speed. A perfectly timed safety car can take a driver from a lap down to being right behind the lead driver, with no need to have lapped the circuit 50s faster than everyone else.

Should Hamilton leave Mclaren, Withmarsh will find out he had just purchased a turkey instead of an eagle, to carry the hopes of the team.

Button said he must win the championship this year, “No excuses”. Well we are watching.

10

James, do you have a view on the Hamilton/Whitmarsh relationship?

Logically, MW should be chuffed to bits with Lewis: he is always in the mix somewhere at the end of the season, and he brings the fight to every race. But when you hear him wax lyrical about Button, it seems like there is only one driver in the team.

11

I can’t fully agree with this analysis. Button’s drop of form did not happen from Round One (which could be a logical explanation if it was all about setup/adaptation/tyre management), but rather from round 4 onwards. To be more precise: it happened earlier when JB made an uncharacteristic mistake of running into Karthikeyan in Malasaya. Other teams in such cases have looked if there was something wrong with the chassis and produced a new one (Ferrari fo Massa). I still think it is a chassis or team management problem, because you can’t become 1,5 seconds slower overnight

12

+1

13

Firstly, I am a McLaren fan. Second, I admire the relationship between Lewis and Jenson. They are true sportsman. Third, I was in Montreal – bravo for those that kept the peace.

All that being said, both McLaren drivers are true competitors. Who else had a bad day in Montreal? How about MS? In fact he has had a terrible season, punctuated with moments of brilliance.

The point is all athletes have a slump, sometimes of their own making (LH last year). Jenson is a competitor and will be back. Count on it!

14

Clearly Button is inot F1 material, his time of reckoning has come, no amount of plotting from Whitmarsh will help him this time as Twitmarsh’s job is on the line as well and helping Button can only mean relegating Hamilton to something way below tenth position, that would just be the end of twitmarsh!

15

From: http://www.f1technical.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=11755&start=2640

“It’s believed McLaren was taking advantage of the production tolerance allowed for the floor – which has to be flat but which is allowed a few millimetres tolerance – by considering the splitter as part of the floor. The clarification put a stop to this. McLaren insists this had no serious impact upon the car’s aerodynamic performance, but others are less sure. Could it have allowed just enough rake on the car for even Jenson to get the front tyres up to temperature? It’s only a theory. But at the time of writing, theories were all even Button and the team had”.

James, this probably explains the issues Jenson is facing as his practice run was cut short due to technical problems. But Jenson Pace has alarmingly faded badly lately.

One more thing James, can you please provide us details if this is true that Mclaren have been told to get rid of this splitter on the floor area? as since the high nose we cant see the splitter?

If we remember, Jenson has had similar problems during his Brawn championship year.

16

@ Nathan Jones:

June 15th, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Have to agree with your comments re. Jurno’s treatment of Hamilton vs Buttons on their failures: merciless criticism against suffocating sympathy. Ham fans aren’t (always)reacting against Jenson but the disparity in journalistic treatment of two drivers.

Button can (and will) out drive anyone on his day but can you imagine the headlines if Ham was having Jenson’s current problems.

17
Grayzee (Australia)

It’s all very simple isn’t it?

Surely, it’s a limitation of the driver. We talk about “driving styles”, but fail to acknowledge that some drivers simply can’t deviate from THEIR driving style: ie: Button. That is why he is inconsitant. Give him a car that suits him, and the quickest out there. All the “great” drivers are able to adapt their style to suit the car, such as Senna, Clark, Fangio,Prost, Schumacher and even Alonso.

They are fast in anything they put their bums in!

Button can’t do that. End of story.

18

Jenson Button is a better driver than virtually EVERYONE commenting on this website. However, in the world of elite drivers that is Formula 1, he’s more likely upper middling at best.

I believe the Mclaren, far from being the ‘fastest car’, is actually somewhere between Button’s and Hamilton’s pace which means Hamilton, in achieving his qualifying results, and being relatively consistent near the front, is actually ‘over driving’ it (whatever that means).

However, because the press has inexplicably, persistently and optimistically propagated the ‘tyre whisperer’, ‘intelligent, on the go strategy maven’ narrative for Button, and the ‘tyre destroyer’ myth for Lewis, there is surprise at Button’s performance and insufficient appreciation of Hamilton’s achievements.

I’ve no doubt that Button will come good working with Mclaren’s formidable engineering experience and expertise (and remain BETTER than EVERYONE commenting). I just wish journos including JA would write about what we are seeing and not what they might be wishing.

19

There is NO question there are journalists out there propagating a very ACTIVIST, exaggerated view of JBs performances. Ironically, with their actions they have turned a good number of people against JB- those who otherwise respect and appreciate his performances. On the flip side, LH great performances are reported factually, seldom glowingly- and his poor performances, well we all know the narratives. Take our host for example, I love his work, insight and pure writing skills. But just review the headline news and the text of archived articles describing race outcomes this year (just this year, fresh in our minds):

1. **Bragging rights** at Maclaren go to Button….goes on to emphasize JB “beating” Lewis

2. Alonso **Transforms form book on its head**….Alonso gets heaps of deserved praises in the text

3.Rosberg converts 1st pole….”faultless drive” and other positive driver attributes in the text

4. “Faultless Vettel hold off….ditto

5.Maldonado makes Williams winners again with **Brilliant win**…ditto

6. Webber doubles up in Monaco to become winner…plain headlines made up with good driver attributes in the story

7. Hamilton Sticks to Plan A and wins Canadian GP…

No fancy adjectives in the headlines or story about driver attributes. Rather, he stuck to team plans and won. Nothing to do with him.

See the article describing his exceptional poll performance in Spain (later disqualified)…”Hamilton couldn’t believe his **luck* in being so far ahead his opponents…

Its subtle,heck, I don’t even think its intentional, but that’s how it comes across.

Now, people are free to admire different styles of racers. I liked Prost, but preferred watching Senna. I also recall the rather slanted news coverage he got in the press. Of course, much of it is now changed.

20

Vinola, as a Lewis fan myself, I understand what you are trying to say. HOWEVER, it is well documented that JA has a soft spot for Lewis…he just refuses to ‘gush’ about him in order to remain objective about the coverage and analysis on this site – which I totally respect.

So, I think you’re being a bit unfair in your assessment.

21

I’ve just about stopped laughing now. Thanks for brightening my morning

22

Vinola Reply:

June 19th, 2012 at 12:12 am

What you’re describing is what humans do automatically, it’s called tribalism. A tribe can be defined as the smallest group of people for mutual defence with sufficient genetic diversity. The anecdote goes; if everyone woke up one morning all the same colour, by mid day they’d have divided themselves up into tribal units based on the smallest differences. It’s a defence mechanism, useful in times past, but still powerful, if more subliminal today.In every such unit rejection of the ‘other’ is mandatory however silly it is. Wars have been fought over ludicrously minor differences.

Whether bloggers are aware of it or not, they’re just as susceptible to tribal bias as the rest of us. Though JA “calls it as he sees it,” as do all the bloggers, the perception given (justified in MHO) is a tribal bias for JB as against LH.

Having said all that, I’m new to this site (which is great by the way) and find it much more objective than others I could mention.

England 2 : Ukraine 0

23

Well, there are a couple of possibilities; a) you could be right, this is “total nonsense” or b) there is substance to justify my statement/view. We could explore this hypothesis a couple of ways; a) a quick poll here to gauge readers’ “perception” of the coverage of these drivers. Of course, this is subjective, but no less important since it may fairly represent people’s perception. b) If I had more time, I would love to do a more objective analysis of the coverage of these drivers on these pages. But if someone wants to take it on, here’s an idea. First, define words that equate “positive driver attributes”, e.g, brilliant, faultless, intelligence, racecraft etc. Pull all archived articles describing final qualifying sessions and races over a defined period (this year for example). To truly blind, de-identify drivers, but match their codes to qualifying and race final positions. Have a number of people count “positive attributes” per driver and correlate to race or qualifying outcomes. You could adjust for words per article. One could in addition, characterize the negative outcomes; identify sub par performances (qualifying and races) and count # of times the following phrases are used- “”couldn’t heat tires”, “couldn’t find balance”, “couldn’t find pace”..etc are used. My predicted outcomes are that JB has disproportionately high positive attributes for good performances AND disproportionately high “explanations” for sub par performances. A cynic might say so what?. If the results are as I hypothesize, I’d submit it would support my view.

The poll might be a good first step though and it may be insightful.

24

Then could we have a bragging rights article for hamilton? Especialy as he at least managed 3rd when Button won.

25

Glad I did, second time in as many years!

26

James, anything to get you laughing 😉 but what Vinola says is actually quite revealing. I’m glad he made reference to your headlines from just this year alone. Last year, it was quite interesting! The narrative then on JAF1 was Button was a ‘god’ in motion, always able to take the ‘lead’ and ‘direct’ the teams strategy while ‘thinking on his feet’. Hamilton on the other hand was often characterized as ‘limited’ in that ability, a ‘tyre thrasher’ and completely dependent on team instructions during a race. Perhaps, as Vinola says, it is unconscious, but it is something to think about. I repeat that while ALL of these guys are GREAT drivers, a few of them are phenomenal.

27

Total nonsense. People read whatever they want to into every story. I call it as I see it and I’m comfortable with that

28

Hang on a sec. Just because I am not a plastic sugeron, doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to say someone messed up Tara Reids face.

29
Armchair Critic

Jenson has recently said that the lost setup time during practice contributed to his problems in the race.

I am just wondering if it would have been better for him to treat the race as a test session. rather than running around outside the points. Would it not have been a good opportunity to try different settings with different fuel loads and tyres?

My theory is that he would have been last but would have useful data for the next races.

30

James, I’ve seen a few references on other sites to an “electronic gizmo” that McLaren have on the car which Jenson feels might be throwing off his feel for the car and causing him to go the wrong way with setup (to the extend that Sky reported him as taking it off the car for Montreal).

Have you heard anything about this and can you shed any light onto what the “gizmo” might be???

31

Button stroked his way to his world championship and doesnt have the tallent to drive around problems! Lewis Hamilton does enough said!

32

Sure , Lewis can drive around AND INTO problems like he did last year .

33

James, any views on Button’s form being affected due to missing the Mugello Test?

I feel Button being more affected by set-up over Lewis, missing a test isn’t affecting Lewis as much as it’s affecting Jenson.

Maybe the Hungary road-show and the “I have 6% fat in my body” marathons are his ‘distractions’ this year. (Although the Hungary road show was the teams call, but that could have been done a week/day before the practice itself!)

34

Well things have been poor of late but I’d be surprised if Button’s whole season is like this. I think his technique for tyre preparation in qualifying has a large part to blame in not getting them into the window. I expect things will improve in a couple of races, or on hot tracks, since the car is decent and he’s not that much slower than Hamilton in outright pace. He was able to perform with this car in the first 3 races and even with the recent updates, it’s not going to be a fundamentally different car.

With the Championship the way it is, he’s by no means out it, though with the closeness of the competition, we may as well talk about the likes Rosberg or Raikkonen being Championship contenders as well, if we are him. I think it’ll be between Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso ultimately. But it changes so much. After Melbourne all the talk was of a McLaren inter-team battle. What’s ‘trending’ change so much from race to race to allow any concrete and rigid opinions to form. For example, Maldonado was a hero a month ago, and now he’s back into obscurity. Best to stay open-minded on driver/team form methinks!…

And so I think after a quiet race I’ll pre-empt the news early and big up Vettel on a dominating Valencia performance and the ‘Unstoppable German and Red Bull combination’! 🙂

36

its a bit early to be writing Button off, last thing he needs is this sort of speculation on his performance. Maybe this is his bad luck for the year.

Saying that if the two sides of the garage are not sharing setup now since Buttons good year last season….we could be seeing what most were predicting would happen when he went to Macca…… :0

37

yes, that’s right, JB tailed off terribly in the last nine races of 2011… I mean

2 x 1st, 3 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd and 1 x 4th place … absolutely terrible ….

38

it’s a bit early?

Button has been in F1 for over 10 years and having watched him since his early days up till now, it’s clear that Button is overrated.

Yes he can deliver, only when given a good car that he likes. With a bad car, he cannot drive around problems and still push the hell out of the car. Whereas Hamilton, Alonso, and possibly Vettel and still adapt and drive the maniac max out of it. That’s the difference between Button’s performance and the other three I mentioned above.

And if you’ve noticed, especially since his title winning year 2009 (forget the Honda years coz the car was crap and you can’t really tell whether it’s car or driver), generally Button’s performance fades in the second half of the year. He just can’t do it as soon as the season hits mid-point. This year this drop off started even sooner and came after Australia.

I’m not writing Button off, given a good car he’ll still deliver, but his performance are sure not on elites’ level.

39

Your judgement is ‘since 2009’ so that would be 2010 where he tailed off, and 2011 where he didn’t.

There is no ‘generally’ to be found there.

Had some time to kill so I thought I’d check…

out of his 12 complete seasons, he has had more points + better finishing positions in the second half of the season on 7 occasions, vs 5 seasons where he ‘tailed off’.

He only tailed off in 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Just a quick comparison not including retirements, but taking the mean finishing position. Where there was an odd number of races in a season I omitted the central race.

for 2002 and 2004, the 1st/2nd half results have almost identical average finishing positions.

So your ‘generally’ impression is probably based on the 2008-2010 period.

40

“generally Button’s performance fades in the second half of the year.”

yeah, like last year’s second half for example:

1, 3, 2, 2, 1, 4, 2, 3, 3

Appalling.

lol.

41

Well, in 2009 and 2010 JB did fade in the second half of the year.

42

Read. I said ‘generally’.

Cheers!

43

This could explain Buttons problem with the car. James do you have any intel on this issue?

http://www.forumula1.com/news/report-reveals-mclaren-tyre-temperature-trick/

44

I’m not sure that Jenson’s race engineer (Dave Robson) is a good match for Jenson.

As someone has mentioned Mclaren seem slow at getting the basics right at times and seem slow when it comes to thinking on their feet.

Look at Rob Smedley at Ferrari who is always urging Massa to do better over the radio.

Perhaps Mclaren should consider a shake up on Jensons side of the garage?

45

I remember an interview with Hamilton last year on the beeb and he was saying one of the reasons Button was beating him was because of the crew he had around him and that he was jealous of his engineers…

46

I remember the statement. But he (Hamilton)didn’t say he was jealous. However, the core of Jenson’s engineering team had been a part of Lewis’s since 2007.

I think that the kind of changes that have taken placed in the racing team over the past four years has caused a level of instability in the team as a whole.

47

Robson is brilliant strategy wise which is why Jenson tends to make up ground in races.

Your comments are interesting though because setup wise- they really have been struggling these past 4 races – and you can’t apply strategy when the car is undrivable (in one driver’s hands at least).

Lewis’ engineer on the other hand I don’t rate strategy wise, notwitstanding canada- however considering how well their saturdays have been, minus a fuel technicality or two, you have to say that Latham is great with setting up a car.

solution: swap both engineers for a period and see what difference if any it makes to the driver.

48

Forget it. When Jenson came to McLaren Whitmarsh purposely tore down Lewis’s team support in order to give Jenson an “equal” chance with the team. He made Phil Pew, Lewis’s engineer, the head race engineering at the races he took another experience engineer ( Jacobson ? )and made him Jenson’s engineer. This left Lewis with Latham.

I am not saying Latham is a bad engineer because I don’t know that. I do believe that any change in Lewis’s current support group to support Button could surely lead to Hamilton leaving McLaren and I for one would not blame him.

49

Wow. Are we suggesting that people aren’t allowed to make progress in their careers and, if they do, it’s not because of the valued contribution they’ve made to the company but rather a conspiracy to ensure the company doesn’t perform to its full potential?

Crikey.

50

Yes, I can well imagine Jenson’s response to a Smedley style radio message. I’d imagine it would be two words, the second one being “off”.

No criticism of Rob Smedley there, I have a huge amount of time for him, but Jenson doesn’t need that sort of help.

Jenson needs to get the car dialled in to his driving style, but I’m not sure how they can achieve that consistently without a lot of testing mileage and some design changes.

I hope I’m wrong.

51

Surely the mark of a good driver is to be able to adapt to the car and conditions around him/her. Jenson doesn’t seem to be able to do this. Take Alonso – and I’m not an Alonso fan – he seems to squeeze the most out of any F1 car he gets into. And the McLaren F1 is not exactly a rubbish car…

52

Yup!

Put Alonso in Button’s seat and hell it’d be a repeat of 2011 domination in Alonso’s favour. 😀

53

But is it?

An interesting discussion point – who’s best out of a driver who can blitz the field in a car to his liking, or a driver who’s more consistently good in any given machinery?

I guess that’s what people are asking about Michael Schumacher now.

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