Button’s bounce back

This season never ceases to amaze me. The racing hasn’t always been the best, but the outcomes have seldom been predictable. At first, the utter dominance of Brawn, and Button in particular, was unbelievable. They were unstoppable, and it took longer for the other teams to catch up.

Then when the other teams caught up, it looked like Red Bull had the pound seats. But in fact the whole thing unravelled for Red Bull and we instead saw a run of six different drivers winning six different races. That hasn’t happened since 1985.

Throughout that period, Button had underperformed. And despite maintaining his Houdini-like grip on the Championship lead, he appeared on the back foot. He faced questions over how he was handling the pressure of fighting for the Championship, and lost his cool when asked a direct question about it by Ed Gorman of The Times.

He turned up at Monza apparently reinvigorated. It is said that he changed his approach. Instead of worrying about defending the Championship, he was thinking of it was a five race championship in which he had a 16 point head-start. His tail is now up again, and this weekend he was part of a great Brawn revival.

I have to confess that I didn’t predict Brawn doing well at Monza. After all, at Spa-Francorchaps, a circuit with similar characteristics, Brawn were stuck firmly in the midfield. But I guess the hard braking zones, coupled with the awesome power of the Mercedes engine, played straight into their hands.

It was a disciplined approach from Brawn, who shunned headline-grabbing table-topping throughout the weekend. They instead went for a one-stop strategy, which left them occupying row 3 of the grid, but played into their hands massively during the race.

The only problem for Jenson Button was the fact that it was Rubens Barrichello who won the race. But despite having his best race since Turkey, Button has only lost two points from his lead — which is more-or-less the same sort of drop he has had from most of the past six races.

At the same time, Red Bull had yet another disastrous weekend. Mark Webber’s race was over after a first-lap tangle with Robert Kubica through the tight Roggia chicane. Meanwhile, Vettel lacked pace and could only score one point. The chance of a Red Bull driver winning the Championship has significantly diminished. Vettel has a 26 point deficit with only four races to go.

However, the most noteworthy part of the race was probably when Lewis Hamilton crashed on the final lap while he was running in third. The odd thing about it is that there is no immediately apparent reason for the crash. It seems that Hamilton just pushed a bit too hard. He was certainly pushing very hard all race, but you have to wonder why he thought he had a chance of catching Button with so little of the race remaining.

Some people like the fact that Hamilton is an aggressive driver, and I agree that it is more fun to watch than a more conservative driver who might settle for third. But this kind of needless mistake is something that Hamilton is particularly prone to, and it is what, for me, stops him from being a truly great driver. He needs the maturity to realise when is the right time to be aggressive rather than the simple “always push hard” approach.

You look at a race weekend like this and it is no surprise that Mercedes appears to want to back Brawn rather than McLaren in future. The Mercedes engine was clearly the class of the field, and McLaren had the perfect opportunity to make it work for them.

Fuel-corrected, Heikki Kovalainen was fast enough to be on pole position. But he had a horrendous first lap, getting swallowed up by car after car, and losing four places when he really should have gained places because of his kers. Looking at his strategy, many tipped Kovalainen to win. But he looked very average during the race and could only finish 6th.

It further cements my view that Kovalainen is a driver who is simply unable to win. His one career victory was inherited after Massa’s engine blew. Fair enough, but he can’t race his way to the front. His underwhelming performance at Monza this year is very reminiscent of last year’s Italian Grand Prix. That was another one that Kovalainen should have won, but he was unable to challenge Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso.

Oh, McLaren. If they’re not getting themselves embroiled in political scandals as a result of their overly complicated interpretations of the rules, they are messing up their strategy or making some awful error in the pitlane. As for their drivers, one is too aggressive for his own good and makes high-profile mistakes, while the other one is too slow to ever be in a position to make mistakes.

It’s interesting to compare McLaren’s driver line-up with Brawn’s. The Brawn pair have both been written off in the past, yet this year they are the class of the field. Meanwhile, McLaren’s highly-rated drivers of moderate experience end up looking like the Chuckle Brothers in comparison. It seems like Mercedes’s shift in focus towards Brawn can’t come soon enough.

The other Mercedes-powered team, Force India, continued its good form from Spa-Francorchamps. I suppose on reflection Force India may have cause to be disappointed. On the back of Fisichella’s scintillating performance in Belgium, Sutil’s 4th place looks relatively subdued. Meanwhile, Liuzzi’s retirement with transmission failure while he was looking set for a solid result must count as a missed opportunity.

Mind you, how impressive was Liuzzi this weekend? Liuzzi is a star of the future of the past, having once been tipped for a drive at Ferrari while he impressed the world in F3000. But he ended up getting swallowed and spat out by the Red Bull driver development juggernaut, where he was messed about by the management.

But it should be remembered that Liuzzi held his own against Sebastian Vettel while at Toro Rosso. The talent is there but has been wasted over the years. His performance at Monza surely cements his future at Force India or perhaps even a better team.

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