The first three races of 2010 were very open with three different race winners from three different teams. Heading into China it was time to see if somebody could make a stand and edge ahead of the field as the title favourites.
The majority were expecting Red Bull and Vettel to throw the gauntlet at their opposition, after their 1-2 in Sepang, and a Shanghai circuit which suited the team’s strengths.
However it was Mclaren, with a triumphant 1-2 finish, and Jenson Button who takes a 10 point lead in the championship table.
It has been a brilliant start to the season for both parties, and they have plenty of reason to be even more optimistic about the next few races.
Coming into this season many have been writing Button off saying that he would be eaten alive entering the lion’s den alongside Lewis Hamilton.
Not only that, but he was leaving the championship winning team, and the man who made him world champion in modern F1, legend Ross Brawn.
So far it’s two wins out of four.
Both victories were majestic drives in mixed conditions, making the right decisions crucial in both. In Australia Button made the brave call to be the first driver to switch to dry tyres and it paid off handsomely. Also his renowned ability to be easy on his tyres meant he didn’t need to come in for another stop.
China was a very similar story. This time Button opted not to pit for intermediates as rain started to fall on the formation lap. This decision proved to be the right one again. The second safety car brought his main opponents back into the hunt, but Button pulled away with ease after the restart, and resisted Hamilton’s late race charge.
Button demonstrated in those two races that he can lead the team and make his own choices. He has proved himself as one of the best in the field in terms of his feel for the track conditions
Of those two race victories Martin Whitmarsh said to Autosport: “No one who watched those races could say anything other than he thoroughly deserved to win them. They were driver wins—races where the driver had to make a difference and he did make the difference.”
He hasn’t just relied on a wet track to upstage Lewis, though. He out-qualified him in both China and Australia, which were in normal dry sessions. In the second qualifying session in Australia Button beat Hamilton by an impressive margin of 0.653 seconds.
It was crucial for Button to have a great start, rather than let Hamilton dominate him right from the word go, and automatically resume his supposed No. 1 status.
It would be fair to say that Hamilton is still likely to have the most raw speed out of the pair, but it's Button’s all round ability and experience that is allowing him to compete with Hamilton.
With these two wins under his belt along with his personality, leadership, and work ethic he has become very popular within the Mclaren camp.
He had to win over the team and get integrated with them straight away to have any chance of being able to challenge.
He said “I made sure this winter that I got to grips with working with my engineers and everyone within the team quickly. I knew that was so important for this year.”
Furthermore, these victories come in a car which isn’t currently the fastest in F1, unlike in 2009 where Brawn GP was the dominant force in the early stages of the season. There were many claims that much of his success was purely becuase of the car. These claims got louder when Button struggled in the second half of the season, as the BGP001 fell back.
Ross Brawn reckoned that this was the main motivation to Button’s decision to enter the lion’s den.
He told the BBC at the end of 2009. “There was a feeling that he somehow lucked into this championship and that was very unfair.”
He added, “He wants to prove it was him as well as the car that won the championship.”
For Mclaren themselves 2010 had to be nothing other than their year of redemption after a bitterly disappointing 2009 campaign. This time last year Mclaren hadn’t even made an appearance on the podium and had scored only 13 points (under the old system).
What will make this start to the season even more satisfying is that Mclaren doesn’t have the quickest car yet. However, they have made the most of 2010’s two wet races and have usurped Ferrari and Red Bull.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh will also be very pleased with the relationship between his two world champion drivers. So far there don’t appear to be any signs of a Senna/Prost or Alonso/Hamilton situation.
Going forward Mclaren looks to be in great shape. They have shown themselves in the past to be the quickest team in the F1 development race—that was pretty evident in 2009 when the team managed to find 2.8 seconds over a whole season. If they can repeat that this season from their current position, then they have a mighty chance of being world champions.
They are already leading both championships.
At the moment Mclaren is a few tenths off the pace of Red Bull, and on about the same level as Ferrari. In Spain and Turkey (Rounds Five and Seven) Red Bull’s charge might be halted because the RB6 is very hard on its tyres. Both tracks have very high tyre degradation rates. This is a weakness that will be fully exposed at those circuits, giving Mclaren a chance to battle with them in the race.
Jenson Button will be equally confident going to those two tracks. He will benefit more from his ability to preserve his tyres than at any other circuit. This trump card will come to the fore and may well give him a competitive edge again over his teammate. He will fancy extending his championship lead over the next few races.
In conclusion, it has been a dream start to 2010 for both Button and Mclaren. Button has proved his doubters wrong because he is leading the championship in a car that isn’t the class of the field.
His move to Mclaren is being vindicated as he has shown that he is capable of matching Hamilton. Alongside that, the team he left are currently off the pace and behind Mclaren in the championship.
If Button could win this championship then there is no doubt it would propel his status as a driver, because of the much stiffer level of competition he would have to have surpassed.
For Mclaren already winning races this early will be very satisfactory for them. They would dearly love to fightback from 2009 to win both titles.
Perhaps even more satisfying is that they are currently beating their ex-partners Mercedes. Mclaren have proved that their power and ability hasn’t been affected since going it alone.
Obviously there is still a long way to go in this 19 race F1 season, but those with the widest smiles on their faces on the tediously long journey back home after China were Mclaren and Jenson Button.
Will their success continue as we head to Spain this weekend?
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