x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Button reluctant to play second fiddle to Hamilton just yet

The 2009 world champion is not keen on giving up on his own title ambitions just yet.

Jenson Button, right, does not think it is necessary yet for him to have to play a support role to McLaren-Mercedes teammate Jenson Button.
Jenson Button, right, does not think it is necessary yet for him to have to play a support role to McLaren-Mercedes teammate Jenson Button.

SPA // Hidden amid a dense forest of pine trees, the all too recognisable roar of Formula One engines returns for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix following a one month midseason break.

The drivers, sporting tanned brows and streamline haircuts, look refreshed and revitalised, ready to resume hostilities.

Romain Grosjean of Lotus went on a belated honeymoon and also took in some judo at the London Olympics.

McLaren-Mercedes' Jenson Button competed in an Ironman in the Philippines and then organised his own triathlon in England, with the proceeds going to charity.

Sergio Perez of Sauber went to Mexico and launched his own foundation to help orphans.

"The break is always good, but you miss the pressure, the competition," Perez said.

Certainly, the competition for this season's world championship is the most wide open it has ever been.

Seven different drivers won the opening seven races, before Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton all secured subsequent victories.

Ferrari's Alonso, with three wins, leads the title race by 40 points, but Hamilton, having triumphed at the last race in Hungary, is confident of chasing down his former teammate.

Martin Whitmarsh, the Englishman's team principal at McLaren, even suggested earlier this week that Button could be asked to support his teammate's quest for the title if his own challenge is not reignited soon.

Button, who won the opening race of the season in Australia, trails Hamilton by 41 points ahead of the 12th race in a 20-event season, but yesterday insisted he will be competing for the top step of the podium - in direct competition with his teammate - so long as he remains in contention for the championship.

"Personally, I think it is a pretty pointless conversation right now," the 32 year old said.

"Forty-one points is not a big margin, it's less than two wins. Lewis is about 40 points behind Fernando and I think he still thinks he's got a very good chance of winning this championship.

"Half the grid are in front of their teammates, and all their teammates will not say they are going to help them. I am not here to race around and just help my teammate win a championship - none of us are.

"We are here to fight and it would be a pretty boring championship if only 12 drivers are fighting for victory and the rest are helping them. We will fight all the way until either we win the championship or it is no longer possible."

Arguably, Alonso's biggest threat for the championship comes not from McLaren, however, but rather from the silent figure of Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen.

The Finn, returning to the sport following a two year hiatus, has shown consistency throughout the first half of the season and with his team running a speed-enhancing "double drag reduction system" is well positioned to improve even further.

The 32 year old, who trails Alonso by 49 points, has won at Spa four times in his career, including his last appearance there in 2009, and arrives as one of the favourites following a run of three podiums in his past four races.

As ever, the laconic Raikkonen gave little away when asked for his thoughts on the circuit and a possible victory this weekend.

"It's not any more special than other places," Raikkonen said.

"It's a nice race circuit and usually it produces nice racing, but I know this circuit as well as any other circuits, it's just been pretty good for us, but I have had some bad races also. It's not like I come here and suddenly I should be good. It can be a disaster."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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