It’s hard to imagine Jenson Button getting terribly excited about this afternoon’s work. The man’s energy, vitality and enthusiasm might suggest he’d be happy hooning an F1 car around the local supermarket car park, let alone the streets of his ‘hometown’. But we’re wondering here how it feels to line up 13th, in an F1 car you’re just not ‘feeling’. We’re betting JB would rather be high up on the hills on his triathlon bike, contemplating just what’s derailed his campaign this year.
Jenson’s won around Monaco in the past in the Brawn Wundercar, And he’s won this year, kicking of the season with a win that suggested the balance of power at McLaren had shifted powerfully and irrevocably, and the McLaren MP4-27 was the tool he’d use – and not Lewis Hamilton – to score a second world title.
Back in Australia it seemed Jenson had finally found a way to disarm Lewis of the one weapon Hamilton always had in reserve — those few tenths a lap of outright speed. Without the speed advantage, Hamilton was neutralised. You could see it on Lewis’ face after the race; ‘What happened there?’ Button was gentler on his car, more empathetic with his tyres, easier with the team, and better when it came to calling race strategy. But Lewis was always faster and, say what you want, that still matters most in F1. The Melbourne demolition must have turned Lewis’ hard-found karma on its head.
Only it didn’t. Whatever Lewis did this winter, with the family, with the girl, with the management, with whoever, has had a profound effect on him. It’s no fragile, trick-psychological patch, but feels like an entirely different outlook on life. Nothing seems to shake Lewis this year, and that seems to have shaken Jenson.
We don’t quite buy the easy-go-lucky JB public image. Don’t get us wrong, he is still the F1 driver we most want to be, but don’t for one minute imagine the man has an equally easy-go-lucky approach to winning. He’s a triathlete for goodness sake, and a strong one too. Proving that he’s better really matters to him.
So for the last two years he’s used the gift of that charm and those looks to weave himself in to the McLaren fabric, the same fabric that’s been wrapped around Lewis since he was in babygrows. Like an elder stepbrother, Jenson came in to the family and won them all round.[ital] why Lewis was so out of sorts last year. It had nothing to do with his Mum or Dad or Nicole. The family that mattered most was McLaren, and that wasn’t his any more. Jenson knew that to win another title, he had to beat Lewis first.
After Oz, it looked like job done, but now the boot is on the other foot. Yesterday was the second time in two races Jenson has failed to take one of the two or three quickest cars through to Q3. As ever, there was only a few tenths between Hamilton and Button but this year, of all years, that’s the difference between fourth and, well, 13th.
And Jenson just doesn’t seem to know how to respond. Nothing he has said in the last two weeks has suggested he has any kind of answer to a drop in form. He’s quick in practice, but simply can’t match it in qualifying and the race. It’s almost as if its JB who’s now feeling the pressure. And across the garage there is Lewis; smiling, shrugging his shoulders, getting on with the job. Just the way Senna used to do it, whenever Prost thought he’d got the upper hand.