European GP preview: is Button the man to stop Vettel?

After the high, fist-biting drama of Canada, this weekend’s European GP at the Valencia Street Circuit has a hell of a lot to live up to. Clocking in at 4 hours, 4 minutes and 39 seconds, the rain-sodden race at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit was officially the longest in F1 history and saw the safety car deployed a record six times. It was – apart from the excruciating two-hour rain delay that saw Martin Brundle and David Coulthard’s commentary skills pushed to the absolute limit – one of the most exciting races we’ve ever seen.

So while a more sedate afternoon’s entertainment in Valencia seems inevitable, in the context of the championship, things are starting to look rather tasty indeed. True, Vettel could sit out the next two races and still turn up at the Nurburgring with a ten point lead at the top and a firm grip on a second title. Plus, having bossed last year’s race from pole position, he obviously goes into the weekend the firm favourite.

But that thriller in Canada taught us three very important things. Firstly that, in race trim, McLaren have the fastest car on the grid, in any conditions. Secondly, that Jenson Button – the man who made a jaw-slackening 34 overtakes on his way to victory in Canada – has had enough of living in Lewis Hamilton’s shadow, backed up by JB telling the media last week that he still believes he can turn the season around and spoil Vettel’s party. And thirdly, that Lewis’ season is on the verge of a particularly messy implosion. The 2008 champ has been involved in four incidents over the last two races and spent more time in front of the stewards than he’d care to remember, leaving him facing criticism from all sides. Even wise old F1 grandad Stirling Moss has spoken up on Hamilton’s recent reckless behaviour, saying that Lewis ‘goes a bit too far’.

All of which creates an extremely interesting dynamic inside the McLaren garage. Though they’ve now got race-winning pace, they’ve also got a potential liability in Hamilton – a driver who’s used to being the team’s number one but, based on his performance in recent races, is making that team position look dicey. So, should he find himself staring at Jenson’s gearbox again in Valencia, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the notoriously competitive driver may attempt the same sort of kamikaze move that ended his race in Canada. He has a point to prove, after all, a point made all the more urgent by rumours that Hamilton is eyeing up a drive at Red Bull, having met with team principal Christian Horner in Montreal.

Still, even if it does turn out to be another Vettel-led procession, perhaps Mark Webber will at least treat us to some more death-defying acrobatics. Remember this utterly insane backflip from last year’s race? Because you can bet your trousers than Marko does.

Anyone else now thinking of The Fast Show?

Once again, here’s our wildly inaccurate prediction for qualifying. As ever, feel free to throw your proverbial hat into the ring, or simply shout us down (to be fair, our predictions can only get better).

1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Mark Webber
3. Lewis Hamilton
4. Jenson Button
5. Fernando Alonso
6. Nico Rosberg
7. Michael Schumacher
8. Nick Heidfeld
9. Vitaly Petrov
10. Kamui Kobayashi

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