Thursday 19 April 2018

F1: Button 'excited' by shift from speed to strategy

Jenson Button Photo: Getty Images
Jenson Button Photo: Getty Images

Tom Cary

When even Jenson Button describes a race as confusing you know it has been unusually eventful. The Englishman, now in his 12th season in Formula One, is known for his smooth driving style and his race awareness, plus his ability to react to the changing situation in front of him.

Some would say it compensates for a lack of blistering one-lap pace.

A good example of Button's more refined approach is his debut win for McLaren in Australia last year, when he made the snap decision to switch tyres early in the race, a move that paid off handsomely.

No wonder the Briton was hugely encouraged by what happened in Malaysia on Sunday. Fifty-five pit stops, drivers constantly switching positions and tyres requiring careful ownership. Button found it "confusing" but so did everyone else. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it would have been "an air traffic controller's nightmare if you were tuned into the strategy channel".

These sorts of races suit Button. With the new Pirelli tyres -- and the drivers' ability to handle them over a race weekend -- set to become the overriding priority this year, Button's smooth style and calculated approach leave him well placed to profit.

"A lot of it is about getting the strategy right, which is up to the team, but also the driver," Button said. "He has to know what strategy he is on and understand the tyres and push them to the limit for a set period of time."

Button finished second in Malaysian, which lifted him to second in the championship behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

"It's not all about being flat out every lap. You could say that is not that exciting but I find it very exciting that you really have to find the tyre limit," he added. "Even with three laps to go you might think the tyres feel great, but I will push and as soon as you respond, your tyres are gone."

Having started the season with a car two seconds off the pace, Button heads to China this week in a machine that very nearly matched Red Bull in Sepang in terms of pace, carrying a far more reliable KERS energy-boost system and with a new brand of racing that suits him perfectly.

"The championship is wide open," he said. "Sebastian has 50 points. He's got a reasonably good lead but we are getting closer. I know he backed off at the end in Malaysia but, if you see our pace throughout the race, we were as quick as him. If he doesn't finish the next race and I win, I lead the championship. It can turn around this week."

Vettel dismissed suggestions that he could dominate the championship.

Taking into account his success at the end of last year, the reigning champion has won the past four races, and five of the past six.

But Vettel said: "Some people were already talking of brutal dominance, but we've only had two of 19 races. We've seen within a matter of days how the pace can vary, with it much tighter in Malaysia than in Australia.

"Look at last year, with Fernando Alonso. People wrote him out of the championship, but he was the favourite going into the last race."

Meanwhile, Prodrive chief David Richards can't wait to bring the Mini name back into front-line rallying after the launch of their John Cooper Works World Rally Championship challenger yesterday.

The Mini WRC Team will compete in six rounds this season before making a full tilt at the title next season.

Their first appearance will come in next month's Rally d'Italia in Sardinia following final tests of the Countryman-based car in Spain and Britain. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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