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Egmont's column: Masterly Button

2009-05-27 08:11

Egmont Sippel

Jenson Button duly won at Monaco.

It was a far tougher affair than one might have imagined.

Afterwards, Jenson – looking fairly relaxed and untaxed compared to his podium partners – spoke of the mental examination that is the Principality. The further you go into the race, he said, the narrower the barriers seem to get.

It reminds one a bit of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. The further his crew went upstream into Cambodia, which was forbidden territory during the Vietnam War, the more they lost their minds.

This is the path currently followed by the power players in F1, it seems.

I went round the Charlotte Nascar Raceway once, with an old toppie. After 200 laps of basically going in a circle, some drivers get disorientated, he said. They can’t tell whether they’re entering Turn 1, 2, 3 or 4 anymore. The corners all look the same, even though they’re not.

Monaco winners all look the same as well.

They all look happy.

Ask Lewis

And with good reason. It’s a unique event.

Ask Lewis Hamilton. He spent most of his time leading up to qualifying telling the world how much he loves the place and what a big thrill it was to shave barriers like the barber of Seville.

He didn’t say whether he was equally fond of the big Number 1 patterned diamond display on top of his helmet.

All it did in any case was to emphasise the fact that Lewis was first to get his come-uppance in quali.

The Hammer has now had a couple of brushes with Monaco’s unyielding watchdogs.
In 2007 he crashed at Ste Devote, during Thursday practice. Last year he brushed the Armco coming out of the swimming pool complex. This time he crashed in Mirabeau.

This comes hard on the heels of Lewisgate and Barcelona, where the Hammer drilled his car silly to end up first amongst those who finished outside the points.

Imagine a world champion starting 14th and finishing 9th after a hard day’s work.

McLaren woes

It’s got to be the worst showing by a reigning No. 1 since Jody Scheckter sat in a 1980 Ferrari, thinking about the guy who designed the car.

That’s probably where Jody’s interest in fire arms got kick-started.

By the same token, Damon Hill’s showing in 1997 doesn’t count. Damon got dumped by Williams.

Nobody goes to Arrows willingly.

That’s why Alonso is threatening to retire if the major manufacturers leave F1. We’ll be left with a list of names that might include Simca and Borgward. Even Arrows could resurface, lord almighty.

McLaren won’t ditch F1, in any case. They’ll enter before the end of the month for next year’s budget capped merry-go-round, even if others don’t.

McLaren have the FIA line to toe, remember.  

If, however, their drivers carry on like they do now – crashing cars like Steven Gerard scores goals, which is often – Woking won’t have anything to go racing with in 2010.

And how will they design a race winning chariot again, now that the Ferrari design influence of 2007 has all but galloped off into the yonder?  

Ferrari fighting back

Maranello, on the other hand, seems to be on the up.

That’s in terms of the car and, oh yes, Raikkonen’s rekindled interest in the job at hand. Maybe Luca Montezemolo promised Kimi some shares in Absolute Vodka if he wins a race for Ferrari again, before Alonso’s arrival.

That gives Kimi the better part of two years to deliver on that wish. Even so, it might be tight; Ferrari is still a long way behind Brawn.

That’s why it is so crucial that the Ice Cream Man is showing signs of becoming the Ice Man again.

That Massa seemed quicker in the last part of Sunday’s race can be attributed to Felipe’s remarkable penchant for ignoring things – red lights in Canada’s pit lane, bollards demarcating the edge of a race track, FIA warnings about short-circuiting chicanes, etc – as well as the fact that Raikkonen slipped from casual into super-casual mode in Monte Carlo to protect his engine and brakes.

No good, though, for the Kimster’s enthusiasm to improve in tandem with F60 gains, if Stefano Domenicali keeps on scoring own goals like Steven Gerard can’t dream of scoring for Liverpool.

Stupid tyre choice

On Sunday Stefano made the umpteenth mistake of his short reign as Ferrari team leader, by letting Raikkonen start on the harder compound tyre.

Strike One for Brawn, who started on super-softs.

Hey, Stefano, that means better traction to maximise track position into Ste Devote, which is the same thing as maximising race results in Monaco.

For, off they stormed through the famous right-hander: Button, Barrichello, Raikkonen.

And past the flag they flashed 78 laps later: Button, Barrichello, Raikkonen.

That’s why Red Bull went silly and qualified Vettel on reserve tank levels, just to be first into Ste Devote.

Or was the short fuel load to make the Renault engine – which blew up in Vettel’s car on Thursday – last until a first pit stop on Lap 12?

That was young Seb’s first shock of the weekend, the V8 blow-up.

RB5 will be back

The second came when he was baulked in Q3, which destroyed his game plan.

Then his race was destroyed by severe graining of the super-softs.

And finally his pride got dented by an overly enthusiastic acquaintance with the barriers at Ste Devote.

The RB5 is a classic Newey aero car, however. It will be back in Turkey and Silverstone’s fast sweeps, what with pull-rod rear suspension and a double-decker diffuser.

Funny though, that none of the teams picked up the tendency of the option tyre to wear off so drastically during practice stints.

Which is not to say that Domenicali should have elected the option tyre for his boys to start on.

KERS couldn’t help Raikkonen on the run down to Ste Devote in any case; it’s too short a sprint, and starting on the outside Kimi was always likely to get too much wheelspin, especially on the harder compound.

Ferrari made exactly the same mistake in the USA in 2007, starting the Rai on harder tyres, which left him stuck behind Massa in the last stint, nullifying the speed of the Finn’s softer rubber during the latter stages.

So, stupid, stupid Ferrari. Again!

KERS cars

The Scuderia at least looked strong all weekend long. So did McLaren, up to Hamilton’s mistake in quali.

Both ran KERS.

The other cars built to accommodate the system are Renault, Toyota and BMW, none of which used it in Monaco.

Of the six, Alonso just scraped into Q3. The others all languished at the back of the grid.

Could the removal of the system, and therefore the more forwardly-placed centre of gravity, have robbed these cars of so much traction that they could not perform in Monaco?

Or could an overcompensation of weight redistribution towards the rear have left the noses too light to turn in?

Do the KERS cars carry an inherently insolvable balance deficiency when the system is removed?


Although it is noteworthy that BMW lack performance everywhere, and that the Renault engine might not have afforded its drivers – including Red Bull’s – as much low-end grunt as the Merc mill did, in Monaco.

F1 a car manufacturer’s game

Which leaves the Toyotas.

Seeing that Trulli clinched pole in Bahrain, only two races ago, we can assume that nothing is much the matter with the car. And seeing that Williams (with Toyota V8 grunt) performed quite admirably in Monaco, we can assume that nothing is much the matter with the power plant, either.

Which leaves everybody – including Toyota – mystified as to their performance in the Principality.

Let’s hope it was a once-off. At least they have outgunned BMW and Renault at other venues, which is no mean feat.

Yet, under the circumstances it is easy to see that any number of these three might leave F1 at the end of 2009 in any case, budget caps or not.

Which confronts us with the awful truth that F1 and its image, its worth, its value, have been inextricably intermingled with the presence and participation of big car manufacturers.

What will happen to the sport’s stature and popularity if Ferrari, Renault, BMW, Toyota, Red Bull and Toro Rosso should depart?

How will the glamour and world-wide impact be affected, even if Ferrari stays (and only half of the rest leave)?

Who will the Prancing Horse compete against?

McLaren, Brawn and Williams? Yes. Plus Force India, Lola, Richards, USF1, DAMS, Wirth Research, Epsilon Euskadi, RML, Formtech, Campos, iSport and Litespeed?

In such a case we’ll have a worthless two-tier championship in any case.

Racing people and the truth

Which leaves us with a couple of diamonds from Monaco (and we’re not referring to the Hammer’s helmet).

Firstly we have John Howett denying that Toyota will leave F1. He will deny it, won’t he?

Secondly we have Domenicali denying that Massa was warned not to cut chicanes. He was asked “to pay attention”, says the man who has sent the Rai out on full wets in the dry, or on slicks in the wet, or on softs when he needed super-softs off the line, etc. etc.

Doesn’t this guy – Domenicali – understand the world around him?

Thirdly, we had Barrichello explaining that his super-softs went off shortly after the start because he was following Button too closely, which affected his aerodynamics, which in turn made the car slide, which in turn grained the rears.

Fair enough.

But then Rubens continued: “Jenson was 16s ahead at the first pit stop. After that we had very similar pace; sometimes I was better, sometimes he was.”

You’re telling me something, Rubens. Both you and Jense banged in your respective fastest laps just before your second stops, on prime tyres. You posted a 1:15.685; Jense a 1:15.190.

Half a second slower is hardly “similar pace”, I would venture. Button’s final qualifying run was also stupendous. Butty is quick, really quick, in a good car.

But that’s racing people.

They hardly ever see it the way it is, or was. At the best of times, they always bend the truth by at least a little bit.

Just ask Lewis.


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