Formula one: Button reaches major milestone
Published 01/08/2011 | 05:00
From start to finish this race weekend was all about the Sky.
After the anger and emotion arising from the deal to screen Formula One on the satellite broadcaster from next year, the value of what it has bought was there for all to see in yesterday's Hungarian Grand Prix.
A race of high drama, in which rain, as so often, played a starring role, ended in fairytale fashion with Jenson Button claiming victory on the occasion of his 200th Grand Prix -- and at the scene of his maiden win in 2006 to boot.
Five years on from that memorable victory, the McLaren driver proved again that he is the undisputed king of changeable conditions, driving a measured race and judging his tyres to perfection to stretch his lead over Sebastian Vettel to 10 seconds before cruising to the win ahead of the Red Bull driver.
Not bad for a man who supposedly spent the previous night in a hospital bed. A hoax story posted by hackers on Button's official website, claiming the McLaren driver had been seriously injured in a car crash, briefly caused alarm to the driver's army of admirers overnight. They need not have worried. Button was safely tucked up in bed after a party to celebrate his 200th race.
It was a measure of the respect and affection in which Button is held by the paddock at large that his past team principals, from Frank Williams to Ross Brawn, turned up to pay tribute to him, as well as rivals such as Fernando Alonso, who crossed the McLaren threshold for the first time since he left the team in acrimonious fashion in 2007.
Button's win yesterday, needless to say, was almost universally popular. It was also richly deserved and had just a whiff of destiny about it. From the moment Martin Brundle -- who might be tempted by a big-money offer from Sky -- opened the BBC's coverage with the mischievous words "the Sky is closing in'', it looked like Button's kind of race.
Starting third, he appeared to kiss wheels with team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the run to the first corner, but was unable to find a way past. No matter, he had predicted the race would not be won on the first corner and he was not wrong.
As a breathless day unfolded, Button did what he does best, judging the conditions and his tyres to perfection.
While Hamilton roared past Vettel and looked nailed on for a second successive win, Button made steady progress. He, too, passed Vettel to claim second position on lap 14 and then profited from a spin by Hamilton on lap 47 to claim the lead from his team-mate.
After a nail-biting scrap for the lead -- which had McLaren's entire team on the edge of their seats and for which they deserve enormous credit -- Hamilton was nobbled twice in quick succession, first by a disastrous decision to switch to intermediate tyres and then by a drive-through penalty.
Button sailed serenely on, pulling away from Vettel in the final laps to enter the midsummer break with a confidence-boosting victory under his belt.
"It's great to have a couple of weeks' break," he said. "It might take me that long to get over tonight."
When he does sober up, Button will head for his holidays in Hawaii and ponder the fact that he now lies exactly 100 points behind Vettel.
Red Bull's 24-year-old world champion will be extremely pleased to have stretched his lead in the title race to 85 points over team-mate Mark Webber despite a car that once again did not match up to the McLaren.
Vettel again made errors at crucial times under pressure, and his detractors will point to those errors as evidence that he can be caught, but he also got the job done yesterday and did not look unduly ruffled by the close of play.
It will take a supreme effort to stop him -- or some gross negligence on Vettel's part -- but at least we have the prospect of a competitive second part of the year to look forward to.
Alonso claimed a podium spot for the fourth successive race and added that he was confident Ferrari would be even more competitive when the championship returns to warmer climes.
"Unfortunately it was not very hot in July," the Spaniard said. "We love high temperatures so hopefully August and September will be better for us."
The action could hardly get any hotter. Nick Heidfeld's Renault even caught fire -- the German doing well to leave the pits and park it on the side of the track before leaping out -- on a day when the action further down the grid was frankly dizzying.
Honourable mention must go to Force India's Scottish driver Paul di Resta, who achieved the best result of his fledgling career yet with seventh place.
But the day, the weekend, belonged to Button. Now sporting a neat back and sides rather than a scraggy beard and hobo hairdo, he is essentially the same bloke who topped the podium here in 2006 and that constancy is the reason he remains so popular.
"The greatest compliment I can pay him is I'm really sad he's not driving for us still," said Brawn at the bash on Saturday night.
There is not a team principal in the sport who would not echo those thoughts. (© Daily Telegraph, London)