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Posts Tagged ‘Button’

How Brawn has changed Button

Jenson Button took his third win of the season on Sunday in fine style. This was a victory which demanded a great deal of care, because he didn’t have the fastest car out there on the day, not even on the qualifying day, even though the Brawn had appeared to have the legs of the others in Friday practice.
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He also had to be aggressive on the opening lap, to regain the place lost to Lewis Hamilton at the start. F1 fans around the world are now debating whether Button can capitalise on the superb start he has made to the first part of the season and win the world title. He will face a growing challenge from teams like McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, while Toyota and Red Bull are already on his pace.

But I sense a real difference about Jenson this year. I think that Ross Brawn has given him a greater sense of disclipline, not just in his driving, but in his life as a whole. And in that pass on Hamilton, he showed the importance of giving nothing away, something which characterised Michael Schumacher’s driving and Ross Brawn’s whole approach to racing.

Button has always had a great talent and a uniquely smooth style. And when he started, he learned the F1 ropes pretty quickly, let’s not forget that this is the man, who at the age of 20, on his first visit to Spa, pointed out to the FIA’s Charlie Whiting that the 100 metre braking board was in the wrong place on the approach to La Source hairpin. They measured it and found he was correct.

So, behind this rather laid-back facade, a sympathy for precision and discipline has always been there, but many years in bad cars had rather blunted the edge. Also the same lack of discipline and leadership in the technical department at Honda, which caused them to misfire, has been transformed under Brawn’s leadership.

I’ll give you a small example, every time Button enters the pits during practice he drives into his pit box, with the mechanics in the positions they would be in for a pit stop. He comes in and stops in position. But that is not where it ends, there is a brief pause on the radio and then Andrew Shovlin, Button’s race engineer will say, “Ten centimetres out.”

There is no further comment, no response from Jenson.

Sometimes he comes in and you will hear Brawn himself say, “Perfect position Jenson.”

It matters because it means that when he stops for real in the race, the refuellers will be able to do their job more easily and the stop will be faster. This is what you call taking care of the details and it is the hallmark of Ross Brawn, honed over many years together with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The ethos at Ferrari was that everyone had to give 100% all the time and if they each counted on each other to do that, they would be successful. It has undoubtedly sharpened up Button’s racecraft. He seems very on top of every aspect of the game at the moment.

“I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win, ” Ross said on Saturday. “The way he is driving, that part is taken care of.

“It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pit stops, the strategies, and make sure the car is reliable.”

His personal life has been rather chaotic for much of his F1 career, you recall the dithering over moves back to Williams and the odd situation where he had to buy himself out of his contract. Now after a few years under Richard Goddard’s management that side of his life seems to have settled down and become more under control. There is a unity of purpose about every aspect of his life. I’ve seen it before in racing drivers, when they get into a position to win races and championships, they get into the ‘zone’.

Button is in the zone now.

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Jenson Button was fastest today in Friday second practice, his time a good six tenths inside last year’s pole time. He finished second here in 2004 behind team mate Rubens Barrichello, who was in a Ferrari at the time. Both men love this track and are strong here so it should be the best battle between them to date.

He has been attacked this weekend by his former boss Flavio Briatore as a ‘kerbstone’ -an odd use of a word, but I think what Flavio meant is one of those big old heavy milestones or bollards at the side of the road. Either way it was meant to suggest that Button isn’t one of the greats in current F1 and that him winning everything damages the credibility of the sport. It was pretty insulting. Jenson had had a chance to weigh up Flavio’s words and this is his response. Note that he makes reference to Briatore having tried to hire him for this year, presumably in place of Piquet…
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WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF BRIATORE’S COMMENTS THAT HAVING A TEAM LIKE BRAWN AT THE FRONT OF F1 IS DAMAGING FOR THE SPORT’S CREDIBILITY?
“Unless he is at the front of F1, I am sure [he thinks] any team [being
there] hurts the credibility of F1. He also needs to remember that he
tried to employ me for this year, so…”

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IN RESPONSE?
“He is obviously a very angry man after the diffuser issues and he is
obviously very disappointed that they haven’t produced a car that is
as competitive as ours. We have produced a very competitive car
because of the workforce we have back at Brackely and you cannot take
it away from them – it is very unfair to say that. They have worked
very, very hard in very difficult circumstances and it is very, very
unfair for Flavio to comment as he has just because he is a little bit
bitter – he should also not forget he tried to employ me for this
season.”

WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE OF THE TEAM?
“Laughing, basically.”

HOW BIG A RELIEF FOR YOU WAS THE DIFFUSER DECISION?
“I don’t know if relief is the right word, but it is nice that is
behind us now and we can concentrate on the rest of the season. That
is the result that we expected. It is not our fault we have built a
good car, and when a regulation changes I think things change in F1.
We have seen changed. Some people might not be that happy about it,
but instead of getting angry and putting their views out there, they
need to concentrate on improving and catching us up.”

WHAT IS YOUR EXPECTATION FOR THIS WEEKEND’S RACE?
“I am looking forward to it. It is a circuit I’ve enjoyed in the past
and I’ve had some reasonably good results here in the past, even with
a difficult car. I am looking forward to it and it is quite a similar
circuit to Sepang, our tyre compounds are also reasonably difficult to
work with, the softer of the two is graining, so we are going to have
to work hard to stop that graining, and again the tyres are going to
be very important this weekend and getting them working in the correct
operating range.”

ARE YOU WORRIED THAT THE LEGALITY ISSUE WILL CLOUD THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
“No. We had legal issues last year and the year before we had legal
issues with other teams. It is not a problem because if parts on our
car were illegal it would be an issue, but they are not. They are
legal, it is just other teams have questioned the legality of our
parts and the court has said they are legal. Nothing matters except we
have got the performance and other people don’t seem to have it at the
moment.”

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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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I’m sitting in Melbourne airport in the departure lounge waiting for a 1am flight to Kuala Lumpur. I’m not alone, there are plenty of F1 people milling around, rather bleary eyed waiting for the plane. Ferrari are on the flight, along with some French and English journalists, a few photograpers and others. It’s an eight hour flight and it will be tiring, but it’s not a bad flight to catch as it gets in to KL at 6-30am, so you don’t lose a whole day travelling.

I was rather surprised at the check-in to see Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali with both of his drivers, travelling as a team. I was quite impressed actually, I’ve not seen that before. I don’t know whether it’s just circumstance or whether there is some kind of edict that they should be together. Ferrari as a team has always been good at sticking together to travel, not for them the private jets for the senior management, there are no obvious signs of hierarchy. But the drivers are not normally a part of it.

Felipe Massa, his wife and his manager were together, while Kimi Raikkonen had one of his Finnish mates with him, the pair with their distressed baseball caps worn at an angle, making cracks in their own private language about people they saw, laughing like teenagers.

It was a shocking weekend for Ferrari, with reliability once again the problem. They also have to catch up to Brawn or hope that the appeal against the diffuser succeeds. I’m hearing that they have two parallel development programmes going, one with a copy of the new ‘double decker’ diffuser and with a new gearbox, the other a development of the car they have. McLaren are also flat out building new parts and they will be flying out packing cases full of kit to Malaysia this weekend. Both teams are chucking money at solving the performance crisis.

I’ve also heard of teams who were about to lay off staff from the aerodynamic department, who have delayed the move so that they can accelerate the development of their own ‘double decker’. It rather makes a mockery of the whole cost-cutting mantra we were hearing over the winter! Brawn has got the big teams on the run.

I bumped into Jenson Button twice today, at lunch and dinner. The Melbourne race winner was in a very relaxed mood, hanging around near the beach, just savouring the moment and looking forward to the next. He enjoyed a long lunch with his new girlfriend Jessica.

He was saying that his main emotion before the race was excitement, rather than nerves. He struggled to control the excitement, but now that he has the win under his belt he knows he can start to build momentum. He has to capitalise while the big teams are down.

He feels that the Red Bull is the biggest threat at the moment and certainly until Vettel crashed into Kubica, he had kept Jenson honest. Jenson added that the tyres were quite tricky on Sunday, especially towards the end as the temperatures dropped, but the Red Bull seemed able to stay in touch. I wonder if it will be able to on Sunday.

It is such a graphic illustration of the fact that in F1 you really are only as good as your car. Jenson was not a tosser last year, although he struggled with motivation at times and was outperformed by Rubens Barrichello.

He has the car to get the job done and the team has developments in the pipeline for Barcelona. He should have his nose well in front by then.

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Some fun responses from the drivers in the paddock at Jerez, where Brawn and Renault signed off their testing yesterday, responding to the news that the FIA has changed the system now rewarding the driver with the most wins as world champion.

Nico Rosberg said, “What nonsense is this?”, Jenson Button, who could well end up benefitting from it said, “I understand the logic behind it and it’s interesting. It’s an incentive to try to win but it also looks risky to me. After 9 races you could get a driver who’s already won the title and can take the rest of the season off, while the driver in second is only 18 points behind!”

Lewis Hamilton said a curt, “I have no opinion on this.”

Meanwhile a delighted Bernie Ecclestone has tipped Button to be a factor under the new rules: “I suppose an awful lot will depend on these [new] regulations, but if Brawn has got it right, then there is a chance that for the first three races we could maybe see Jenson winning.

“Now that it is not points that decides the championship, if he has three races in his pocket then it is not bad – although I suppose in the end you have to look at the old timers like [Fernando] Alonso, Kimi [Raikkonen], Felipe [Massa] and Mr [Lewis] Hamilton.”

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I’ve been at the Barcelona test today, where Jenson Button put the new Brawn-Mercedes through it’s first full day of testing alongside the opposition. And what a day it was.

Jenson was fastest this morning and then this afternoon he wound up fourth with a best lap of 1min 21.140. But we shouldn’t get too carried away with the headline lap times, the point is that the car ran very reliably, covering 250 miles in total, which is a fantastic effort for a first full day’s running, as rival teams acknowledged. It ran with hardly any problems and Jenson had a smile as wide as a Cheshire cat this evening.

As he said, he could so easily have been sitting at home on his sofa with no career to look forward to. He admitted that he had other offers but turned them down to stay with this team and was quite open about the fact that he has taken a pay cut and quite a significant one, to drive for Brawn GP this season.

He described his new car as ‘beautiful’.

“It’s been a stressful winter, five months out of the car. The plan B was not racing. But what would I do, sat at home? There’s nothing out there for me. I’m 29 years old, I’m still a kid and I’ve still got a lot to prove. I’m here to try to win races with Brawn GP and I think there is a good possibility of that in the future.

“I only knew it was 100% on Thursday last week. We had the whole factory in one room. Ross gave a speech and said that we were racing this year and it was just the biggest round of applause.

“When you have a long term contract you don’t worry about the future. But being at home you think, ‘Wow! This has all suddenly come to a stop very quickly. Thinking that I wasn’t going to be racing was very tough.

“It’s necessary for everyone to sacrifice certain things. I’m here to race and I love racing and you have to make sacrifices.

The car is not bad, it’s nice to drive and I’m very comfortable with it. It reacts well to changes. We’ve had a positive day. We’ve done a good job today. We came here to do long runs and get as many miles on the car as we could and we’ve achieved that first day. 82 laps is not bad at all. ”

The car looks pretty good. The detail on the aerodynamics is startling in places, like the diffuser and the front wing, which is very intricate and complex. Brawn GP is running it’s Melbourne car here, whereas some other teams still have updated parts to test this week and next and will bring more parts to Melbourne.

I think it’s fair to say that Jenson was not running as much fuel as some of the other teams, Williams for example were running very heavy today, but nevertheless the car looked like it has great change of direction and they seem to have dialled in a set up pretty quickly

It’s early days yet, but it’s been a great start to the adventure which is Brawn GP. By the way, check out the new poll on the right hand side of this page. It’s about the Brawn GP logo, what do you think of it?

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I’m delighted that Brawn GP has emerged from the rubble of the Honda GP team. It is a bold move by Ross and knowing him, he would not have done it if he did not think he could be successful. Everything he does he does well. The money must be solid because Mercedes would not have done the engine supply deal if it wasn’t. The money is coming from Honda, is my understanding.

It’s an enormous challenge, but the rewards are potentially enormous for him too. After all he’s now 100% shareholder in a business with guaranteed income of at least £45 million per year (from TV) and on which Honda spent £70 million in capital expenditure on hardware in recent years. If he keeps the team alive over the next few years and then, who knows, Honda comes back again, maybe as an engine supplier only, or if someone wealthy like a Mallya or Abramovitch type wants to buy in, Ross will have a very valuable asset, which will make him very seriously rich.

This way the thing stays nice and open. It buys Honda some time while the automobile industry is in crisis. Honda will always build cars and Honda will always have racing in its corporate DNA and if F1 becomes cheaper and financially sustainable as FOTA and the FIA intend, then it will represent a sensational return on investment in a few years time.

Ross said in the last few weeks that “My job is to save jobs” and although they will trim down the 700 workforce at Brackley, many of the jobs will be saved by this move. We do not yet know whether there are any sponsors in the sidelines, but we do know that this deal would not have happened without FOTA teams supporting Ross and the new deal for independents of three years engine and gearbox supply for under £5 million per season.

There is no truth in the rumours that Mike Gascoyne is the new technical director.

As for Mercedes they are supplying the engine to the team and Brawn’s engineers have had a Mercedes engine at Brackley since the end of January, to do the installation work. This means that they will have had less than two months to adapt their 2009 design to the Mercedes engine, which is very tight. Lack of time to work on engine installation often leads to reliability problems, as Williams found when it switched from BMW to Cosworth a few years ago.

Ross will have seen this coming and will have put a working group in place to make that transition as smooth as possible. He is a consummate organiser and a genius at knowing where to put human and technical resources and when.

My understanding is that Brawn GP is getting the engine only, not the whole gearbox and hydraulic system from Mercedes/McLaren as Force India has. The FI deal is a very special one and this is not the same.

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will drive cars 18 and 19 in this year’s championship. Barrichello will extend his record as the most experienced driver ever and it’s no surprise that Brawn chose him over Senna as he is a brilliant technical driver and he will help them far more than Senna would have done to get the car sorted quickly. Senna would have faced a mountain learning F1 with no testing time.

It indicates that the finances must be solid because Senna brought around $10 million with him in sponsorship. Button has his severance pay from Honda so he will not be too out of pocket, whereas I imagine Rubens is on a lowish retainer, but he’s just happy to still be in F1.

The team are not making Ross or the drivers available, but a Q& A with him will appear on the team’s new website at 2pm GMT today. You can keep up with the latest news and see pictures of the new car, maybe even later today, on their new website http://www.brawngp.com/

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