Button begins to feel heat from Hamilton
Sweat pouring from the drivers' brows as they donned their race suits and balaclavas, sun glinting off their visors, menacing thunderclouds rolling in from the neighbouring jungle, Formula One came up against a wall of heat in Malaysia yesterday.
This weekend has a reputation for being the most demanding of the year; the punishing temperatures and humidity transforming cockpits into high-speed ovens. Hopes are high that the action on track this season will prove just as hot.
Last weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix fired the imagination. The top five positions were occupied by two McLarens, two Red Bulls and a Ferrari, but that told only half the story. Mercedes have raw pace aplenty and if they can get their tyre wear under control will pose a threat, while Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and even Williams appear to be far closer to the front-runners than they were last year.
Then there is the battle of Britain; the mouth-watering prospect of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton fighting not only for British bragging rights but for the world championship -- the scenario the British have been waiting for since Button signed for McLaren after winning the 2009 title.
It is early days, but all the signs are that McLaren have the best car. They locked out the front row in Melbourne last weekend, and took first and third in the race.
Hamilton topped the time sheets in both practice sessions yesterday, confirming once again that for raw pace few can match him. Button was third-quickest in the second session behind Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton will be desperate to make his pace count this weekend. His downbeat demeanour after finishing third last Sunday led some, including former top driver David Coulthard, to wonder whether Button had landed a psychological blow with his ultimately routine victory. Hamilton reacted sniffily to that suggestion. "I don't feel that way at all," he said this week. "It may have happened for him (Coulthard) back in the day but not for me. I'm fine."
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old's body language in Melbourne, coming off the back of a troubled 2011 season when he struggled to keep his emotions in check, has led others to -- reassess the balance of power within the McLaren team.
Caterham's chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne worked with Button in the early stages of his career. Gascoyne was part of the Renault management team, led by Flavio Briatore, who let the Somerset-born driver go at the end of 2002, bringing in a young Fernando Alonso instead.
Briatore branded Button a "lazy playboy" adding "time will tell if I am wrong". Gascoyne concedes Button was immature, and badly advised by his management, but he is hugely impressed by the driver Button has become, so much so he believes Hamilton's attitude needs to change if he is to match him.
"They are both great drivers," Gascoyne said ahead of today's qualifying. "The difference now is that Jenson can handle it when Lewis wins but Lewis really struggles when Jenson does. We saw that after Melbourne and it is something Lewis has to deal with.
"Jenson has learned from all the struggles and the pressures he had to deal with early on in his career. He saw off Jacques Villeneuve in his team (BAR) and he has handled Lewis in his team." Gascoyne believes this era of fast-wearing Pirelli tyres play heavily to Button's strengths. "Jenson was always very smooth," he said.
"In the race he is able to look after the tyres. Lewis is struggling to match that and, with his attacking style, the more aggression he puts in the harder it gets for him in the race.
"When Jenson was at Benetton he had the talent but he had management who filled his head with all sorts of things. Now he is the same nice guy, same talent, but mentally very strong." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Malaysian Grand Prix,
Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports F1, Setanta Ireland, 8.55am