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Archive for the ‘Button’ Category

I wasn’t surprised to hear Jenson Button saying that racing is dominating his life at the moment.

Button is like many drivers who have found themselves in with a chance of winning the world title. Presented with an unexpected opportunity to fulfill his lifetime’s ambition, Button is finding that he can think of little else between races.

“I’m probably a right boring bastard at the moment, I really am,” he said.

Jenson has always had a relaxed air about him in person and in the years when things were not going so well, he found it easy to switch off between races. But beneath the relaxed facade there is an intensity about him; he was always unsettled by not being competitive. He appears to be wearing his current situation quite easily, but it’s clearly taking over his life. He finds himself thinking through all the scenarios, considering every possible thing which might help him to land the grand prize,

“It’s different because things are going well and you want to be thinking about how you can improve. When things aren’t going so well, you know you need to improve the car and where you are, but you also need to get away from the racing, to forget about it for a few days. At the moment, that’s not possible.

“This season is weird because after the last couple of races I’ve won. I’ve obviously enjoyed the weekend, but I wake up on a Monday morning and I’m already thinking about the next race.

“It’s quite a strange feeling, very different to the rest of my Formula 1 career, winning four races out of five, but you do get used to it very quickly. I will never forget how difficult it can get, how tough it can get, but when you’re winning, finishing second is a disappointment.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve been non-stop thinking about the next race, running through it in my mind, getting all the data. It’s been quite a stressful few weeks, you wouldn’t think so, but it is more stressful.”

Michael Schumacher lived in this mental state for the best part of 12 years. It’s hard not to become compulsive-obsessive in that position.

Racing is a kind of controlled chaos, there are so many variables at play, especially at the sharp end of Formula 1. A driver always wants to try to master every aspect, control every situation, to bring it under his control, to dominate.

In this he will have been influenced by the mentality of Ross Brawn, who knows all about maintaining competitiveness and giving nothing away.

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Jenson Button’s chances of winning the world championship improved dramatically today with a fourth win from five starts.

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It means that from a maximum 45 points he has scored 41. And with the next race in Monaco likely to be one of Brawn’s strongest tracks of the season, he looks set to cut down the number of people who can challenge him down to an absolute minimum. It’s starting to look like he is uncatchable. It’s a good job we don’t have the controversial medals system in place as he would be close to clinching the championship now.

Thus far the man most likely to challenge apart from his own team mate, is Sebastian Vettel. But Vettel has lost seven points to him in the last two races and now lies 18 adrift. Who else can challenge?

The Ferrari drivers have pretty much written of their chances, despite making a huge step forward here this weekend in car performance. It is possible that Ferrari will catch and pass Brawn on pace, but now that Felipe Massa is 38 points behind with only 12 races to go, he thinks he’s already run out of time to catch Button.

He said to a group of us this evening: “I don’t think so. We need to be realistic. After five races they won four.

“Even if we improve massively and we are three or four tenths if front of them they will still score points. Forget it.”

Toyota, as always are erratic this season, so it’s hard to see them winning consistently. That leaves Lewis Hamilton, who is 32 points behind. I said after Bahrain that the track had flattered them a bit, but that if they could keep up the development on the car they could still challenge.

This weekend they went backwards, with a new front wing which didn’t work. It is now starting to look as though this car may be possible to improve, but is destined not to be a front-runner. In the past McLaren might well have built a new car mid season, but they cannot afford it now and also it’s already too late to save the championship.

So that leaves the championship between Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber. And over the next few races we will lose a few more contenders. Brawn should dominate Monaco, because it is the best stop-and-start car. A glance at the tight sector 3 here shows you that. The Ferrari could go quite well there, but it won’t be a Red Bull track.

Turkey will be a good battle, while the fast curves of Silverstone will suit Red Bull. Nurburgring, Budapest and Valencia will be Brawn tracks, so you can see that it is looking very good for Button.

And he’s helped by the fact that all his rivals seem to be squandering their chances to beat him.

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It’s a shame that Jenson Button has yet to see the chequered flag at full racing speed at the end of a full race. Both his wins have been terrific, but this one today was really special and you have to pay tribute to the masterful way that the Brawn team, Button and his engineer Andrew Shovlin managed the changing conditions.

Others, like Glock and Heidfeld made greater gains by gambling on wet tyres, and Heidfeld gambled several times with the result that he made only one pit stop compared to Button’s four. But then Glock and Heidfeld had nothing to lose, while Button had everything to lose.

He said afterwards that the car wasn’t very well balanced on wet tyres, so it was a credit to him that he was able to keep his pace up in the wet conditions,
“The conditions we had today, it’s very unusual to drive the full wets in slightly greasy conditions, we had to go for that option because he thought it was going to rain and we were in the lead. It felt pretty terrible, the rear was always trying to break away. But that was more down to the conditions.

“When we put the intermediates on, the car felt pretty good I had a good balance for the car, because it was the right tyre for that condition, until it started bucketing it down and then no tyre was usable.”

So he did his bit. But the team did a brilliant job. If you compare his outcome with Nico Rosberg’s you’ll see what I mean, Rosberg had the early lead and was on a similar strategy to Button, just a couple of laps shorter on the first stop. He had the pace for a podium today. And yet he made stops on laps 27 and 30 and slipped from 2nd to 8th, with the fourth stop from inters to wets, a stop other cars didn’t make. This could have happened to Button, but he had kept the momentum going and at every stage the team stayed calm and did what was required.

Today’s other great revelation is that we got to see just how fast this Brawn car really is, when Jenson had to push hard in his two laps before his first stop, in order to leapfrog Rosberg and Trulli. He did a 1m 36.641, which is a second faster than the next non-Brawn car!!

That is quite some margin they have, greater than we imagined previously and it’s also impressive to note that that lap time was set at the end of a 16 lap stint on soft tyres, so the Brawn can be said to have fantastic tyre management ability.

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Everyone is buzzing with the performance of the new Brawn Mercedes car in Barcelona, particularly that lap Jenson did on Wednesday of 1m 19.127 to end the day fastest.

There is a lot of speculation within F1 circles and the wider public about how he did that time, whether it is genuine or whether they are running an underweight car to attract sponsors, as some teams have done in the past.

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Even Fernando Alonso has paid tribute to the Brawn team today, saying that his Renault couldn’t do those lap times whatever configuration it was in!

Well I’ve taken a close look at the data I’ve gathered and there is no doubt that this car is performing remarkably. We will only know whether it has been running underweight when we get the first two races out of the way and we can see what the relative performance of the Brawn to the BMW and Ferrari is when they all have to be the minimum weight.

Jenson did the lap time on the third lap of a four lap run. What is interesting about it is that his first flying lap was a 1m 19.229, so already very quick on the first lap, then he goes faster again. It was a qualifying simulation, of course, but he found more from the tyres on the second flying lap.

Whichever way you shake it, this was a massively quick time and reminiscent of the pre-season tests in 2004 when he did similar things, everyone thought it was underweight showboating, but the team went on and finished second in the championship.

As for their long run pace, this too is equally impressive. Jenson did a 22 lap run with laps mostly in the 1m21s and high 1m 20s. On Wednesday in Barcelona not too many other cars were doing long runs at that speed. Massa’s Ferrari does a 20 lap run with laps in the low 1m21s.

So on the face of it, as Alonso says, the Brawn is as fast as the Ferrari, which is amazing if the car is running at its legal weight. Bear in mind that Ferrari is running KERS and Brawn is not, so there is a weight advantage to Brawn. And the Brawn is able to put its ballast where it wants it, to improve weight distribution. But on the other hand the Ferrari has the performance boost of the KERS button on the straights – Massa is 8km/h faster across the start line than Jenson.

Jenson does another long run, this time 21 laps, eight of which are in the 1m 20s, again super-competitive.

They’ve been working on their 2009 car for longer than any of their rivals, having effectively written off the 2008 season before it started! They’ve made the work count and you can see why the team were so frustrated that Honda panicked when it saw the November sales figures and pulled the plug on F1.

The team knew they had a really good car on their hands.

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Ross Brawn’s team still has a long way to go, the car has no sponsors on it, the Mercedes engine deal is rumoured to be for just one year and they have to find partners in an economic crisis, but for 2009 things are a lot rosier for this team than they might appear. For one thing, Ross is not running the team on a shoestring, he has been given a budget not just to compete, but to impress.

Honda estimated that it would cost them €100 million to close the team down and rather than do that, with all the bad publicity that would entail, my information is that they have effectively given that sum to Brawn as a subsidy to run the team in 2010. After that he’s probably on his own. So he needs to show performance this year in order to attract long term partners, a point he made yesterday during his briefing. Added to the £45 million the team gets from Bernie Ecclestone as its share of the commercial revenues, this gives the team a very healthy estimated €145 of budget for the season – hence being able to prioritise Barrichello’s skill and experience over Bruno Senna’s sponsorship money.

Despite being Billy Big Pockets, I’m told that the team aren’t going to be throwing the money around in the non-engineering areas, so hospitality and marketing activities will be strictly ‘credit crunch rations.’

There are sacrifices being made for the greater good; Jenson Button was on around £12 million a year in the Honda days and he will have taken a big cut, just to be able to keep his career going, a bit like his old mate David Beckham. That said, he had just signed a new deal with Honda in October, so they would have paid him two years’ money anyway. I don’t think he’s exactly suffering. He admitted that having stared into the abyss over the last few months, he comes back to F1 with a greater desire to do well and get more from a career, which has yet to peak.

So how is the Brawn GP car and what are the prospects? Well I’m delighted to say that the car looks very good indeed. It’s fast, that’s the main thing. They also ran quite reliably for the two days I was in Barcelona, but gremlins will strike them, it’s inevitable with such short lead times. One thing in their favour is that the exhausts come as part of the Mercedes package, so that’s one less installation elent to go wrong.

But making a fast car reliable is infinitely preferable to the other away around, which is what they’ve had to deal with for the last two years.

Jenson did a long run on Monday afternoon of 20 laps, the kind of stint he would expect to do in the Spanish GP between pit stops. It was highly respectable, starting out in the low 1min 22s and coming gradually down to the mid 1m 21s. The car is consistent, driveable and a great basis on which to chase more performance. On Wednesday he did a lap in the low 1min 19s, which is fast by any standards. When I spoke to him and Ross over the last few days I could tell they were so happy about the performance of the car right out of the box. It’s a bit like 2004, when they had a good ‘un from the word go. That year only the Ferrari was faster.

It’s going to be a very tight midfield again this year, which will probably contain Red Bull, Brawn, Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso, possibly in something like that order, to start with at least. And where might McLaren slot in there?

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The Honda goosechase

Time is short with the first Grand Prix of 2009 just six weeks away. The former Honda team is in a race against time to be ready with Honda still paying the bills to keep the team a going concern in case a deal can be done to save them. Honda has a strong desire to see this happen as does Bernie Ecclestone.

Behind the scenes work goes on; the team has had a Mercedes engine and gearbox for some time to get the installation worked out in case the deal to save the team comes off. The problem is that those last minute engine changes always breed reliability problems.

Remember Williams when it clinched a late deal with Cosworth for 2006 after BMW pulled out? The car had been designed around the BMW engine and the following year’s car had all sorts of reliability issues with exhausts and so on. I’m afraid that even if the team is saved, they will surely have some smoky retirements in 2009. More frustration for Jenson Button..

The Honda rescue has become a bit of a soap opera. There has been a lot of misinformation in recent days about the future of the team. A lot of stories have been and continue to be, written which are well wide of the mark.

Last week everyone seemed to be getting very excited about a Brazilian sponsored management buyout, but that seems to have been fanciful. Petrobras was the only big sponsorship deal the Honda team had managed to do, but they made it clear that they were in it because of the business dynamic with Honda and are not interested in the new team. Bruno Senna does bring a hefty chunk of sponsorship with him, so his part in a future team could still be on cards.

Actually that Petrobras deal was done ages ago, last summer in fact, but was not announced. It was the deal Williams used to have.

Now a new party has entered the picture, a serious bidder with a strong brand, we are told. I’m in Italy at the moment and there is some speculation here that it could be Virgin.

Virgin is certainly a strong brand, but they’ve not done a lot in this kind of sport before. They’ve had a go in bike racing, but why would they want to get involved in F1? Well maybe they wouldn’t, but as we all know they are happy to licence their brand to credible third parties, as they have done with the Cola, for example.

I’ve seen Sir Richard Branson at Grands Prix in the past, always looking pretty impressed at the scale of the thing. Bernie Ecclestone has an interest in keeping this team going and there could well be some complicated deal being worked because at a time when strong brands like Honda, ING and Petrobras are quitting the sport, F1 could do with someone swimming against the tide and showing F1 in a positive light.

Who knows, it seems a strange fit with Virgin, but stranger things have happened.

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Does Jenson have a future?

buttonJenson Button was out on Sunday night at the Autosport Awards. He tried to look relaxed about his predicament, but it was not easy and there was a fair bit of sympathy around the room for him.

He renewed his contract with the Honda team in October and must now wait anxiously to see whether the team will be sold in time to take its place on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix on March 29th 2009, whether the new owner will want him in the car or whether another team offers him a ride.

It is another setback in a career, which has not fulfilled the immense promise he showed when he made his debut in 2000, aged 20, with the Williams team.

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