One of the most incredible moments of the Australian Grand Prix was when Jenson Button gave up trying to overtake Felipe Massa properly and cut the chicane at turn 12 instead.
It’s easy to see why Button became impatient — he was clearly faster than Massa for several laps, but just couldn’t quite find a way past. The result was a desperate attempt at the high-speed chicane, which wouldn’t normally be regarded as an overtaking spot. Finding that two cars can’t run side-by-side here, Button had no option but to take to the escape road.
Button’s rare error of judgement
What was remarkable was that Button didn’t just give the place back straight away. Button is a mature and intelligent driver, and you would have thought he would know that it was plain for all to see that he gained an unfair advantage by overtaking Massa by cutting a corner.
My initial thought was that, having had to back out and take the escape route, he would immediately give the place back to Massa. I was stunned when he didn’t because, the scale of his unfair advantage was so huge and clear.
Then Ferrari did the smart thing and swapped Alonso and Massa, ensuring that if Button had to let Massa back past, he’d have to let Alonso through too. Smart thinking from Ferrari, and a rare gaffe from Button who can’t have realised that this could be done.
Meanwhile, the stewards investigated Button. Presumably the discussion was more about what the penalty should be than whether he should get a penalty. When Massa pitted, this decision was made for them — it had to be a drive-through penalty.
McLaren show they have failed to learn lessons
What amazes me even more though is McLaren’s naive approach towards the situation too.
After the race, Martin Whitmarsh said that they tried to deal with the situation by seeking advice from Charlie Whiting and Race Control, then waiting and waiting until a penalty arrived. I wouldn’t be surprised if Race Control were like this just to punish McLaren for having the cheek to ask about a situation in which they were so clearly in the wrong.
McLaren have been damaged by this approach before, most notably two years earlier at the same race when Lewis Hamilton got mixed up behind the safety car. Here, too, McLaren sought advice from Charlie Whiting, only to find that it was not forthcoming.
In addition, Martin Whitmarsh claimed that McLaren were not in a position to just tell Jenson Button to move over themselves, as no-one on the McLaren pit wall saw the incident — despite the fact that it was broadcast clearly on the world feed, complete with replays. This simply beggars belief — it cannot be true.
McLaren’s constant mis-steps with the FIA
McLaren are notoriously nervous when it comes to dealing with the FIA. This has particularly been the case since 2007’s famous $100 million fine. As such, McLaren often make the most incredible errors of judgement.
By now they really ought to have shaken this off, or at least come up with some proper procedures as to how to deal with the FIA. McLaren know from experience that asking Race Control for advice doesn’t always work. So why do they still do it?
Is it a simple case of ducking responsibility? Martin Whitmarsh basically blamed Button and the FIA for the whole incident. But McLaren ought to take responsibility for their decisions too. They lose vital points simply as a result of failing to do the right thing.