x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pressure mounts on leader Button

Firstly, let us congratulate Rubens Barrichello for finally getting that monkey off his back and securing his maiden Grand Prix win for Brawn GP.

Firstly, let us congratulate Rubens Barrichello for finally getting that monkey off his back and securing his maiden Grand Prix win for Brawn GP. A perfect race saw Barrichello claim his first Grand Prix win in five years, and he always had full control. His speed, consistency and strategy were spot-on and, over the course of the race, he outpaced every other car on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton was the main threat, but ultimately, even the world champion was outgunned. I firmly believe that even if Hamilton's second pitstop had not had the disastrous consequences it did, Barrichello would have held on for victory. Valencia is a track with precious few overtaking opportunities and Hamilton would have struggled to get past a hungry Barrichello. On the whole, the entire field was very spread out. This race reinforced the importance of qualifying. Barrichello, who started third, was the beneficiary of another exemplary Ross Brawn strategy - both he and Jenson Button are lucky to have Brawn at the helm.

From a championship point of view, Barrichello's win ensures four drivers are now in with a realistic hope of winning the title. Yes, Button extended his lead, but Barrichello's victory has twisted the formbook again. I expect the Brazilian to be the mentally stronger driver until the end of the season and infinite possibilities lie in wait in the next six races. However, Barrichello is back in the hunt and although he is running out of races to catch his teammate, I would not want to be in Button's shoes - the pressure has been on him for months and is showing. He has failed to find any consistency and just cannot get near the podium. A lack of big points will add to the strain and he badly needs a win.

After his sensational start, the championship could have been Button's already. It is going to be interesting seeing how the remainder of the season unfolds. I was not surprised with the McLarens' pace - I fully expected them to be quick. Hamilton said he bore no resentment towards his team over their pitlane mistake, and I believe him. He will be happy with the car's progress; it is running better than it has done all season.

From being well off the pace two months ago, Hamilton is in a situation where he is battling for wins again - that is all you can ask for as a driver. He will be happy and could not have expected more. Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, however, will be disappointed. They were not as strong as I expected them to be, and it was strange the team could not recapture the pace they have found in recent Grands Prix.

After Hungary, I expected Webber to really push on and challenge. Both he and Vettel need maximum points now. They must fight for everything. Otherwise, they risk a strong season ending in nothing. It was a nightmare afternoon for Red Bull; a very damaging day for their championship aspirations. Congratulations must also go to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn is achieving the best he can with the car at hand. I think Raikkonen is one of the fastest drivers out there, but he will have to be content with fighting at the low end of the podium for now - anything else is beyond him or his car.

Raikkonen, like Hamilton, could still play a huge role in taking points off the Brawns and Red Bulls. Ultimately, the man who wins this championship will be the man who is in the right frame of mind. The one who best handles the pressure will come out the strongest. @Email:sports@thenational.ae