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Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Tuesday, 14 September 2010 10:48 UK

Can faultless Button tame thrilling Hamilton?

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso

Highlights - Fernando Alonso wins Italian Grand Prix

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

All you can be is yourself and as a racing driver that is even more true.

In the high-stress environment of a Formula 1 cockpit, under the pressure of trying to secure the sport's biggest prize, those individual traits are vividly expressed.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are fundamentally dissimilar characters and this was reflected starkly in their respective races at the Italian Grand Prix.

There was concern within the McLaren team about Hamilton's attitude before the race.

He was in that all-or-nothing zone, a state of mind triggered by his disappointing qualifying performance, a scrappy lap with a low downforce set-up that had left him starting from only the third row - for one of the races he had identified as vital that he win, for the sake of his title prospects.

Since before the preceding Belgian Grand Prix, he had talked of how that track and Monza represented two very real chances of victories that he could not afford to pass up, in the belief that subsequent venues would revert back to being Red Bull territory.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton admits to 'mistake' on first lap

"This is nothing like 2007 or 2008," he said before Spa.

"Then we would turn up at every race with the fastest or close to fastest car. We now have only the third fastest car and it's going to be very tough to win the title. I'm hanging on but...

"We have two tracks, here and Monza, where the car will be good, though, and I've got to be thinking about winning both of those to have any chance in the championship because after that it gets very difficult."

With victory in Spa duly achieved, Hamilton's plans for a repeat took a serious blow on Saturday at Monza.

He spoke afterwards that it had been a mistake to opt for the low downforce set-up, that he should have gone for the same high-downforce wing as Button.

The fact that Button had used that set-up to put himself on the front row seemed only to intensify Hamilton's frustration.

The fact that he was blaming it on the set-up was probably further illustration - for actually he had already shown in the third practice session and the first two qualifying sessions that there was very little difference between the single-lap potential of the two set-ups.

Hamilton was on the third row not because the low downforce wing did not work but because he had made a couple of key errors on the lap, partly induced by being in the wake of Mark Webber's Red Bull.

Yes, the low downforce wing made it easier to make such errors but was not in itself the cause of the poor lap time.

That frustration had not subsided by Sunday - and neither was there any change in his no-compromise victory plan.

Combine that with a third-row start and it is easy to understand the concern in the McLaren garage before the race.

Hamilton's adrenalin-soaked approach combined with a fabulous gift is what makes him the sport's most exciting performer but it can catch him out.

After making up an easy place off the grid, the temptation of going inside the two Ferraris into the second chicane was easy to understand. If he was to win this, then there was no time to be wasted - he needed to pick places off quickly.


In this frame of mind, that gap to the inside of Felipe Massa was an opportunity, instinctively and instantly taken.

A more rational mindset would have reckoned the gap was not going to be there by the time he arrived, given that Fernando Alonso was already to Massa's right.

But this same mindset is what gives us the wonderful high-octane passing moves.

In this case his disturbed equilibrium had allowed that instinct to go over-centre but you do not get one without the other.

As McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: "I don't want to change Lewis Hamilton the racing driver. I think he's a pretty good product."

It contrasted totally with the smart, measured approach of Button.

It would be easy for someone of less inner strength to have been ground down by Hamilton's brilliant talent.

Button looks at the telemetry, can see there are things Hamilton does that neither he - nor anyone else - could do.

Yet he also understands that this is only part of the picture, that he has his own strengths and talent.

After his flying start to the season, Button has spent much of the middle part of the year being overshadowed by Hamilton but it has had zero effect on his composure.

Had someone managed to do that to Hamilton, composure is not what you would see - and part of Lewis's extreme reaction to his Monza qualifying disaster would surely have been Button's front-row performance.

McLaren's Jenson Button

Button frustrated by lack of pace (UK only)

Button worked through the Monza weekend, went with the set-up that gave him the feel he preferred - unperturbed by Hamilton going in a different direction - and worked with his engineers in analysing if it would work. He then calmly delivered a near-perfect performance that left even Alonso gushing in admiration.

"Jenson drove superb," Alonso said. "He made not a single mistake for the whole lap in every lap. He did a fantastic drive."

In doing so, of course, he has brought himself right back into championship contention.

Many observers see only the driver who cannot be relied upon to be at the cutting edge of possibility for race after race.

But what they miss is seeing the only driver of the five title contenders who has not made one single error so far this year - and with the pressure of being teamed with Hamilton.

Look how that completely blew apart the composure of Alonso in 2007 . It has not even come close to doing the same to Button - and it never will.

Button's talent operates over a narrow band of car characteristics and that is a weakness. When he gets the car as he likes it - as he did at Monza - he is fabulous. Hamilton can drive the car on the edge regardless of characteristics but he has his own weakness.

With Button back contention for a title that looked to be slipping away after Spa, things could yet become tense at McLaren. But only if Button gets in front.

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see also
Alonso beats Button to Monza win
12 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso revels in Ferrari home win
12 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Italian Grand Prix as it happened
12 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Italian Grand Prix photos
12 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton regrets 'wrong choice'
11 Sep 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton v Alonso fight reignites
29 Jun 10 |  Formula 1

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