x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Button needs to feel the heat to stave off Vettel challenge

The low temperatures at Silverstone weakened the Brawn challenge to the extent that, at one stage, Jenson Button was less than 10 seconds ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella.

Jenson Button's smooth driving style hampers his ability to heat the tyres in cold conditions.
Jenson Button's smooth driving style hampers his ability to heat the tyres in cold conditions.

Sebastian Vettel's virtuoso display at Silverstone was just what the Formula One World Championship needed. At last it looks as if Jenson Button may have a realistic challenger for the drivers' title after Vettel put in arguably one of the most impressive drives of the season. Yes, he had the fastest car, but he made full use of it. He won the British Grand Prix in the opening stint with a devastating display as he pulled away from second placed Rubens Barrichello by a second a lap. What was most impressive was that Vettel was doing this with a car that was five laps heavier in fuel than Barrichello, which just illustrated the advantage that the German had. He is now 25 points behind Button in the standings and with nine races to go will fancy his chances of carving big chunks into that lead if his team can maintain this kind of form. It won't be that easy though for a number of reasons. Firstly, this was always going to be a track that was going to suit Red Bull perfectly thanks to the high speed sweeps and corners that make up the Northamptonshire circuit. Secondly, the low temperatures weakened the Brawn challenge massively to the extent that, at one stage, Button was less than 10 seconds ahead of the admirably quick Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella - not what you would have expected from a driver who had won six of the first seven races. The thing that has helped Button so much this season actually proved to be his biggest weakness at Silverstone. For much of the season Button has looked after his tyres superbly in his Brawn on hot tracks, giving him a big advantage as his rivals have struggled with graining and degradation. At Monaco, Button's ability to nurse his tyres in the early stages won him the race as his teammate Barrichello struggled and Vettel ultimately crashed as he did not find enough grip. But at Silverstone that smooth style went against him as he was unable to generate heat in his tyres, which consequently gave him little grip. It caused his lowly grid slot of sixth in qualifying and led to him being baulked by Jarno Trulli's Toyota at the start and eventually falling to ninth at the end of the first lap. The Briton, thanks to good strategy, did well to minimise the damage to just sixth in the end. Brawn won't be this weak at warmer circuits, but they will be hoping for hotter conditions at the next round at the Nurburgring in Germany, which has been known for it's unseasonal weather in the past. I expect most of the upcoming races to give Button the heat that he needs. Belgium may favour Vettel as potentially could the night race in Singapore, while Japan and Brazil are difficult to predict. It will be only in the coming races that we will see a true picture of whether Vettel and Red Bull do have a speed advantage thanks to their aerodynamic and diffuser updates. But even if they do now have the edge on Brawn, it will still be difficult for Vettel to catch Button. The problem with the 10 points for a win and eight points for second system is that while it does stop someone going massively clear in the standings, it also makes it very difficult to close the gap if you're chasing. If Button can avoid non-finishes and can continue scoring points, even if Vettel racks up more wins it will still be a tough task to beat the Englishman. Elsewhere, Ferrari and Williams both showed glimpses of speed with Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg both putting in good performances for their respective teams. Massa was well worth fourth place as he continues to push, while Rosberg bounced back from his disappointment at being out-qualified by Kazuki Nakajima by outracing his Japanese teammate to take fifth for Williams. There was plenty of good racing further down the grid with the world champion Lewis Hamilton having entertaining dices with former teammate Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica's BMW. While he may be lumbered with uncompetitive machinery that saw him finish a lap down in 16th the Briton could not be accused of a lack of effort as he threw his McLaren around the track, sometimes pushing too hard as his late spin at Club corner proved.

gcaygill@thenational.ae