January 31 2015 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, June 14, 2012
There is no doubt what people on these shores are asking in the aftermath of a wonderful Canadian Grand Prix at the weekend – just what is up with Jenson Button?
• GW – Sebastian Vettel: The German and his team pulled off trying to gamble on a one-stop, and then making a late U-turn – and still picked up plenty of points; Sergio Perez: Flew on to the podium again; Sauber looking good.
• BW – HRT: Brake failures seemed more akin to waving a white flag in Canada – nowhere near good enough for a team miles off the pace; Michael Schumacher: Jammed DRS – how many times have we seen that? He deserves a break.
In Montreal 12 months ago, the Brit was celebrating one of his finest moments in Formula One by propelling his McLaren from the back of the field with more than half the race ran, to the top step of the podium.
And this year? Sadly Button found himself nowhere.
The man himself admits he’s not sure where his problems are coming from or how to sort them out – but as always, fortune has played a part in Jenson’s woes.
Sometimes that is the hardest factor for those in F1 to come to terms with – after all, these guys are supposed to have all the answers. Their learning, preparation, engineering and data should eradicate such chaotic theories.
"I’m confused and very lost… I don’t have an answer"
But I’m sure they all know the F1 gods will have their say if they want to.
The double gearbox failure that made for painful practice on Friday set the tone for the entire weekend – something McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged, even demanding the team needs to do more for their number three.
In truth, that loss of set-up time scuppered Jenson’s Sunday. His brakes were doing him few favours and the balance of the car meant Button was racing almost two seconds slower than his team-mate – and as we all know, that is not the status quo.
Of course, his team-mate made things worse too. Lewis Hamilton was outstanding on Sunday and took victory in brilliant style. Button will have appreciated that – while wondering why his identical version of the winning car was such a dog.
In truth, Button seemed to be hit unusually hard by the hashed practice – but that says more about the demands of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
As people have done, factor in the repeated tours behind Heikki Kovalainen around the impassable streets of Monaco, and that makes it two races of pain for Jenson.
But when you pick the bones out of them, you can simply say it’s just a trough of form the Brit needs to work through – and Whitmarsh agrees: “It is not a long-term concern, it is a frustration and a disappointment.
“Jenson is a great racing driver and we served him badly this weekend. His rear tyres were completely shot. We didn’t long-run with this suspension set-up on Friday and that was our fault – as we didn’t give him a race car he could perform in.
“But we know how smart and strong-minded he is. So he will keep his head up, and he could be the first driver to repeat a win this season.”
As with all these things, you are only as good as your next race – and when you next step into the car, you think you can take it to the limit.
A return to form – and favour – in Valencia and at Silverstone, and all will be well in Jenson’s world.
If not, those questions will get harder to work through – and luck will have a diminishing part in the answer.
• It’s a question often asked of teams going well – a futile question too. You are never going to get an answer.
Firstly Romain Grosjean has been excellent on the whole in 2012 – especially when he gets to take on lap two and beyond.
The Frenchman was GP2 champion last year, taking F1’s feeder series by storm – if having similar first lap issues during his past experience in that and other lower formula.
And unlike his brief initial fling with F1 for Renault in 2009, this time Grosjean is not only showing the maturity to drive well – he is bringing home the results to prove it.
With former world champion Kimi Räikkönen struggling in recent races from the garage opposite, Grosjean’s efforts look even better.
Hethel-backed Lotus’ pre-season goal was fourth in the constructors’ championship – which would mean finishing above one of Mercedes and Ferrari.
They currently sit third, one of only three teams to have broken the 100-point barrier. In 2011, the team’s points total was 73. Their only two podiums came in the opening two rounds.
So no question Lotus have made big strides on 12 months ago – this time with a car they can actually develop properly, rather than the bold but ultimately flawed front-facing exhausts of 2011 that hampered all significant updates.
No, the real question is just how good is the E20?
For however much Grosjean is impressing, if it was Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, would it be a genuine title contender?
As I said, it’s a futile question and one we will never know the answer to.
It’s also unfair on Grosjean, who may not have the same caché as the big names or previous world champions but has proven to be a winner at almost every level he has raced.
In which case, it may be worth pointing the finger at his team-mate.
In an echo of Jarno Trulli’s 2011 travails over his power steering at the ‘other’ Lotus – Team Lotus – it seems Räikkönen cannot get his feeling for the E20 right.
Kimi remains higher than his team-mate in the drivers’ standings, just. But when Lotus head to Valencia this time next week, it will be the Finn rather than the team that is under pressure.