200 races on, Button wins again
He may not be the out-and-out fastest of Formula 1’s current crop of superstars but Jenson Button sure is the go-to guy when the going gets wet. Think Australia and China in 2011; think Canada in June,2011, then Hungary 2011 this weekend: in constantly changing conditions the 31-year-old came up tops every time. And how.
It was, in fact, his first GP victory – in Budapest in 2006 – which marked him out as a wet weather specialist by vanquishing the likes of Michael Schumacher (until then the undisputed Regenmeister), Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen and seldom since has Button disappointed in treacherous conditions, be it in a Honda, Brawn or McLaren; on Michelin, Bridgestone or Pirelli.
"One of my most enjoyable races I would say," was his verdict after his 11th career win his 200 F1 starts. Then, underlining his reputation as Raining Champion, he added "but, I’d like to win one in the dry, please..."
However, he was made to work for this one, not least by McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton, who was again at his baffling best, enthralling with a dazzling display one minute before acting downright dangerously the next, with his drive-through penalty for a reckless about-turn in the face of oncoming traffic after a half-spin being utterly deserved.
In fact, if the sport awarded penalty points per indiscretion, Hamilton would spend half the season on the bench…
That said, he pressured pole starter, reigning champion and current points’ leader Sebastian Vettel into a light off before storming into the distance. The Red Bull driver recovered but Hamilton paid the price for his pace with an absolutely shot front left tyre, and it was not long before it became clear Jenson would jump his team mate when he came in for a fourth stop.
McLaren gambled on rain returning so stuck Lewis on intermediates but it was soon clear they’d duffed and a further stop for dries plus said drive-through dropped him to sixth. He fought back valiantly to fourth by demoting Mark Webber (Red Bull) and overtaking Felipe Massa, who eventually finished sixth and the last unlapped runner after setting fastest lap despite running most of the race with a badly damaged right side plate on his rear wing.
So much for Ferrari’s spend on aero.
Vettel and Ferrari’s warrior Fernando Alonso finished between the winner and above-named trio, with the former once again driving a percentage race as is his wont when certain victory is lost. Yes, he slid off a couple of times, yes he was chronically overshadowed by Hamilton in the early stages, but he brought home 18 points to the 2008 champion’s 12, in the process opening the gap on team mate Webber, his closest points challenger.
On such things do titles hinge.
Alonso also had a couple of excursions but his run of second, first, second, third makes him the highest scorer over the last four races. Yes, titles are decided over a full season, but such results prove Ferrari is back, and with a vengeance.
Little need be said about Paul di Resta (Force India) in seventh or Sébastien Buemi, Nico Rosberg and Jaime Alguersuari, who occupied eighth to 10th for Toro Rosso, Mercedes and Toro Rosso respectively, for all four combinations were lapped. Still, they bagged valuable points, although Rosberg could have done more on a day when he had the pace to run at the sharp end in the opening stages before a wrong tyre call (for intermediates) dropped him into the clutches of the midfield.
Mercedes team mate Michael Schumacher once again suffered a dog-eared race after displaying his fighting spirit in the early stages by sparring with Alonso and Massa. A half-spin while fighting the latter dropped him down the field, with a transmission problem – possibly related – making him one of four retirements, the others being Nick Heidfeld (fire after his exhausts ignited the Renault’s bodywork during an extended stop) and the Loti of Heikki Kovalainen/Jarno Trulli.
Thus, after 11 races of 19 in the 2011 FIA Formula 1 World championship – and ahead of F1’s traditional four-week summer break – Vettel leads Webber by 234 points to 149, meaning the witty Australian needs an average of 11 points more than the 24-year-old German from each of the remaining eight races to take the title by three points.
VETTEL CAN BE BEATEN
Given a variance of 10 points between first (25 points) and third (15) that is effectively an impossible situation, so the Australian and all the rest may as well run and hide after returning from holiday.
Crucially, though, Vettel has now won only one race out of the last five, having previously taken five of the first six.
Thus he can be beaten, and consistently, too - which bodes extremely well for each of the remaining races – starting with the Belgian round at the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit on August28.