F1: Button keeps his cool amid chaos
THRILLING, chaotic, wet, dry, controversial, packed with wheel-to-wheel action and, at the end of it all, a British one-two. What a race, what a result. It may take us all weeks to get back to Europe on a slow boat from China, but it was worth it.
This was Formula One at its dramatic, high-octane best, and another great advert for the introduction of sprinkler systems to race tracks around the world.
You could not find two more contrasting routes to the podium than the ones taken by Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in Shanghai yesterday as they claimed maximum points for McLaren for the first time in three years.
Hamilton, starting sixth, was all-action; pitting four times to Button's two, weaving through the field, escaping with a reprimand for dangerous driving in the pit-lane and eventually claiming second place. The drive of his life, he said.
And Button? Well, Button gave another perfect demonstration in the art of keeping a cool head in changeable conditions. Starting one place ahead of Hamilton in fifth he made the right calls at the right times, raised the tempo when he needed to and, barring one hairy moment when he aquaplaned straight on at the hairpin with five laps remaining, nursed his car to the finish with consummate skill.
The difference between the two? One and a half seconds.
"This is so special," Button said. "For me it is my best victory. Every time that you win it becomes your best victory, but this one was very special as there were very tough conditions and the great thing is our pace was good. It wasn't just the luck of calling the weather."
Sebastian Vettel, who was in pole, seemed to be standing still as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, starting third, leapt past him and into the lead by the first corner. It turned out Vettel had been standing still and Alonso had jump-started, an error for which the Spaniard served a drive-through penalty. His recovery to finish fourth, less than 12 seconds behind Button, was hugely impressive.
For all the drama, the race essentially hinged around three key moments.
First, the introduction of the safety car on lap one after Force India's Vitantonio Liuzzi crashed on the opening corner, prompting the majority of drivers to switch to intermediate tyres. Wisely, Button, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Renault's Robert Kubica opted to stick with dry tyres and, once the safety car had departed, the trio soon found themselves luxuriating in a 50-second lead.
Second, the battle between Hamilton and Vettel, which peaked when the pair went wheel-to-wheel at the entrance to the pits on lap five, and then again as they were released from their boxes. With both on the speed limiter and neither prepared to give way, they flew down the pit-lane with Hamilton on the wrong side of the blue 'pedestrian' walkway that divides the garages from the straight.
The incident was later investigated by race stewards, who deemed a reprimand for both drivers sufficient punishment.
It was the second time in a fortnight Hamilton had escaped censure for 'dangerous' driving following his weaving in Malaysia. Hamilton, though, was unrepentant. "He (Vettel) was pushing me a little bit to the right," he said. "We touched wheels, but otherwise it was fair."
The third crucial incident of the race was another safety car, at the end of lap 22, to clear up debris from a disturbance to Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso. The four laps it was out had conspiracy theorists working overtime and allowed the rest of the field to catch up with the three breakaway leaders.
"I had my heart in my mouth when that happened as I just did not know what was going to happen," Button said. "We had built up such a good gap. It made it very tricky."
Button, though, is a man brimming with self-belief right now. And after two wins in four grands prix for McLaren, he now leads the championship by 10 points heading for Europe.
He might care to reflect on the fact that 15 of the last 20 world champions were leading after four races of the season. (© Daily Telegraph, London).