x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Jenson Button able to mentally reset

The McLaren-Mercedes driver's ability to stay focused during the two-hour rain delay and switch to dry tyres proved pivotal in winning the Canadian Grand Prix.

Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver, handled the two-hour stoppage at the Canadian GP superbly.
Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver, handled the two-hour stoppage at the Canadian GP superbly.

I remember sitting on the grid in 1991 in my Lotus after the Australian Grand Prix was stopped because of heavy rain. The race was never restarted in the end as the conditions were too bad at the Adelaide Street Circuit, but I was ready to go at any point if we had been told to race, and I am sure it was the same story for the rest of the drivers then.

You saw on Sunday that drivers tackle the long break in different ways. Some walked around the grid, while Sebastian Vettel sat on the pit wall and spoke to his Red Bull Racing engineers. Other drivers sat in their cars for long periods.

I think I was always someone who preferred sitting in the car, focusing on the job ahead and trying to keep my head clear and focused. Each driver is different and it was interesting to see their approaches.

Jenson Button clearly handled it the best. He drove the race of his life to win in what was some of the most challenging conditions that a driver can face.

Sometimes in Formula One you have days when it is not just about driving flat out. You have to deal with wet conditions, judging when to change tyre compounds as the track changes, dealing with long stoppages and all the while being able to keep your concentration.

That was what the grid faced in Montreal on Sunday as they had to wait for more than two hours for heavy rain to clear the track and they largely all dealt with it very well.

Certainly from my experience of racing it was a case of just being able to mentally reset when a race was red flagged because of either adverse conditions or an accident.

I would always try and treat the break as the start of the race, and would prepare myself as if it was the start of a fresh race, even if there had been action on the track already.

It was always important to keep a clear head and remain focused on the job in hand.

The other challenge for the drivers was knowing when to go from wet tyres to intermediates and then on to the full dry compound.

It was good to hear the drivers on the radios telling their engineers when they should be pitting as that is the way it should be.

We have seen in the past, most notably when Lewis Hamilton relied on his team at McLaren-Mercedes to tell him when to pit in the Chinese Grand Prix in 2007 and lost the race on bald tyres, that sometimes it can go badly wrong when the teams make the calls.

Drivers are the ones directly experiencing the conditions and know how their tyres are feeling and should know what they need to be on.

Button has proved a master of that during his career and he was one of the first on to dry tyres at the end. It paid off as he got himself into a position to pressure Vettel, the world champion, into a mistake.

It was a terrific drive from the Briton who showed good mental resolve to recover from his earlier collisions with his McLaren teammate and Fernando Alonso.

I was concerned about Button's role in the incident with Hamilton as he appeared to move across his compatriot on the straight and push him into the pit wall.

Button said he did not see Hamilton in the wet conditions at the time, but he had made a slow exit out of the last corner and it looked a strange move across the track.

The Alonso incident was more of a racing incident. If I had to apportion blame, I would say it was Alonso's fault as I believe he had lost the corner to Button, but turned in regardless and he paid the penalty by spinning out of the race.

That all contributed to a terrific contest. Despite the result, I don't see anyone stopping Vettel taking the title, but it was nice to see someone different on the top step of the podium.


Johnny Herbert is a former F1 driver with three career victories. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill.