x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Button needs to raise his game

Spa rarely disappoints. On Sunday, the Belgian circuit threw up another interesting Grand Prix.

Spa rarely disappoints. On Sunday, the Belgian circuit threw up another interesting Grand Prix. Who would have guessed Kimi Raikkonen could win a race in this year's Ferrari? Not me, that's for sure - I couldn't see a Ferrari bettering Kimi's third place in Valencia. It's good to see Kimi back and I'm surprised how competitive the Ferrari was. Likewise, Force India fastest in qualifying? Giancarlo Fisichella finishing second? Unbelievable. It was a total shock. The shock of the year, of any year! Not since the heady days of Jackie Stewart and Eddie Jordan has a back-of-the-grid team produced such a strong showing. I never expected to see it again in modern day F1.

If Fisichella and Force India can keep it going, there could be another car in the championship mix, taking valuable points and influencing the final standings. Looking further ahead, next year's new teams will be buoyed by seeing how limited-budget teams can still cause upsets. It instills a 'if they can do it, why can't we' mentality and gives smaller teams a feel-good factor. But it's not easy to do, even once, and to keep it going would be a truly remarkable feat considering the facilities at hand.

Back to the race, and clearly Kimi was helped by other on-track events, especially those in the crazy first lap. Kimi, courtesy of Robert Kubica, got a small bump, but the optimistic passing attempt by Renault's Romain Grosjean - which ended the races of Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari - was pure drama. It was a rookie mistake, but I do not agree with the many F1 observers blasting the young Frenchman. Crashes are part of motorsport; mistakes are part of a driver's growing up process. Yes, Romain is new to the paddock, but he has race craft, knowledge, understanding and experience honed from years in GP2 and Formula 3. Stepping up to the mark in F1 is a daunting task and hundreds of drivers have failed to make the transition. I hope Grosjean learns from it because I firmly believe he will be a force in future years.

The incident has been made worse because it involved Button and Hamilton. Taking out the reigning and would-be champions has inevitably made the post-race fall-out a lot worse. However, both put themselves in that position with poor qualifying positions. Being back on the grid leaves you susceptible to first-lap incidents. I'm sure Hamiton and Button's initial rage was spurred on by the crash being avoidable, but any anger will have evaporated by now. At the end of the day, both will know they should have been at the front, chasing top-six starting berths.

Button's not had a strong finish in months now. If he wins the championship, no one can doubt that he has been the best over the course of a season, but he is having a lean patch at present. I feel Ross Brawn needs to sit down and talk to him; he needs to try and get his concentration back. The team's performances dropped when questions were raised about their problems on cold tyres. It's almost as if they were over-concentrating on that aspect.

It became more mental than mechanical. They simply forgot about the racing. Now is the time to go back to their roots and get some results to stop the negativity becoming endemic. Speed and points are the cure. Rubens Barrichello has shown the car is capable, now Button needs to get back in the zone and realise everyone else has upped their game. He cannot afford to be over-relaxed. @Email:sports@thenational.ae