x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Button made the right call

The world champion's decision to change to dry tyres rather than wait for orders paid off, says Johnny Herbert.

Jenson Button celebrates after winning the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday, his first for McLaren-Mercedes.
Jenson Button celebrates after winning the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday, his first for McLaren-Mercedes.

Everyone had hoped before Australia that the racing would be an improvement on Bahrain and thanks to that little sprinkling of rain just before the start of the race, that's exactly what we got. The early laps were very entertaining, but the race remained exciting even after the track had dried out as cars battled for position and the different pit strategies played out. It was a big weekend for Jenson Button as he needed to establish himself after a poor opening race in Bahrain and he came up with the goods by winning his first race for McLaren-Mercedes with an excellent drive.

He had a bit of luck with surviving his first corner collision with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, which I believe was simply a racing incident, and then the problem that put the leader Sebastian Vettel out, but he was well worth the victory. He made the call to come in and change to dry tyres before anyone else and it paid off as he vaulted up the order and was able to take advantage of the brake problem that put Vettel's Red Bull-Renault in the gravel.

It was entirely his call. He did not rely on his team to make it and that was important. Ultimately despite all the data that the mechanics and engineers may have on the pit wall, it is the driver who is actually in the car and has the best feeling of the conditions and how the car and tyres are handling them. Button felt his car wasn't working on the intermediates and made the call to change. This is a big win for him as it will only help the world champion grow in confidence with his new team.

On the other hand you have Lewis Hamilton, his teammate, who relies on his team for strategy and guidance on when to pit and that cost him the race. He stayed out longer than Jenson and waited to be called in and then pitted when sitting behind Robert Kubica's Renault as the team saw on the lap charts the speed of Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg, who had already stopped again and were going one second a lap quicker than Hamilton.

Having seen Lewis overtake a number of cars earlier on McLaren were expecting him to do more of the same, but he was now up against the quicker cars and when he finally caught Alonso there was no way through and the strategy did not pay off. Lewis needs to learn from this and start thinking for himself. In China two years ago he lost the world championship. He stayed out on a drying track when the tyres were clearly gone. He stayed out and crashed coming into the pits when he finally did stop. What he should have been doing is telling the team "I can't drive on these tyres" and come in rather than wait for them to make the decision. Lewis needs to rely less on the team and start making his own calls.

It was a frustrating weekend for Red Bull as unreliability again cost them a race victory after they had clearly been the quickest cars. Vettel has been in charge of both races so far this season and only has one fourth place to show for it. It is beginning to look reminiscent of last year when Red Bull arguably had the fastest car over the whole season but lost both championships because of early season mistakes. They need to resolve the reliability issues and quickly, and that is going to be difficult as they now travel to Malaysia for next weekend's race.

The one thing going for them is that the car is very fast and that when Sebastian does get in front, he disappears up the road. If the car can finish reliably then he will win races, but until then the more points he drops the more he is allowing his rivals to edge ahead and gain what could prove to be insurmountable points on him. Fernando drove a very good race for fourth and it was interesting how different he sounded to a couple of years ago. He was very relaxed and said it was good that he had battled with Felipe Massa, his teammate, and not emerged the victor and that was certainly not something you would have heard him say when he was at McLaren.

He seems to have settled in well at Ferrari and appears to be enjoying his new surroundings, and it shows in his driving as he came back from being last after the first corner following the incident with Jenson. The Ferraris look very quick and while they may not be as fast as the Red Bulls they are definitely the second quickest package out there. @Email:sports@thenational.ae