Saturday, March 27, 2010

Button's wake-up call

Formula 1Australian Grand Prix

Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. They are names familiar to motor racing aficionados, but probably not to others.
They are both one-hit wonders, Hill a Formula 1 world champion in 1996, Villeneuve his successor in 1997.
Few youngsters will have either the Briton or Canadian up on their bedroom wall; Englishman Hill and Villeneuve both have fathers who are more highly-rated.The duo reached the top because they happened to be in the best cars at the time. Already, Jenson Button seems to be in danger of joining the club.
The 2010 Formula 1 season, which moves Down Under with the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, is only the second race of the year and Button is struggling. He lifted the world title last year with gifted team principal Ross Brawn by his side in the Brawn GP team, then left for McLaren to form the dream British team with Lewis Hamilton, but it is already looking like he blundered.
The result in the opening race in Bahrain two weeks ago was revealing. Hamilton was strong enough to finish third while Button came in seventh. They both drive the same car, and Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, has already shown how big the difference is between the two in terms of ability.
Worse still for Button, his former team, renamed Mercedes GP, saw their two drivers - Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher - finish fifth and sixth, respectively.
If Button continues his poor form, it will only add to the belief in many racing circles that talent was not the reason for his triumph last year - it was because of the sorcery of Brawn and his team of engineers.But Button has shown what he can do. At BAR-Honda in 2004, he dug deep to go toe-to-toe with Schumacher, who was on top of his game at Ferrari, and on his way to winning No 6 of his seven world titles.
Button was considered driver of the year that season, even though he finished third in the drivers' standings behind the Ferraris of Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, respectively.When the going got tough for the under-performing Honda outfit that season - the precursor to Brawn GP and now Mercedes - Button's talent shone through as he fought tooth and nail for the Japanese team to keep their chins up.That is why they broke the bank in 2006 to keep him when Williams, the team Button started his Formula 1 career with in 2000, wanted him back.
At 30, Button has at least another five years of good racing left with a top team like McLaren. In his team, he is battling one of the sport's brightest young stars in Hamilton.In the paddock, they say the first task is to do better than your team-mate, but Button's job is more difficult, as he is a newcomer in the team compared to the 24-year-old Hamilton, who is regarded as "family".
Button must have known it would be tricky after Fernando Alonso's torrid time with McLaren in 2007. But Button, an Englishman, has a better chance of being absorbed into the "family".If he is going to put up a decent fight in the "Battle for Britain" with Hamilton, he needs to dig deep, just like in 2004. Otherwise, it will be Hamilton alone flying the flag for McLaren, against the charging Ferraris and Red Bull, and Button's 2009 achievement will quickly become a footnote in the history of Formula 1 racing.

by Ian De Cotta

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