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'Exceptional' Button proves quality

Jenson Button celebrates after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix
How many more winner's trophies will Button be collecting this year?

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Renault boss Flavio Briatore, among others, has claimed that Jenson Button's success this year is down to nothing more than the speed of his car.

Briatore says Button is an indifferent driver unworthy of comparison to his double world champion Fernando Alonso - but Briatore has got that quite wrong.

Button has always been a potentially great driver. It has simply taken this long for him to get into a fully competitive car and prove it.

The 29-year-old Englishman is four races into his 10th year in Formula 1 and only now has he started to win grands prix on a regular basis.

Even with the car we had last year I saw little flashes of something exceptional from him

Ross Brawn
Team boss

Button's victory in Bahrain - his third from the first four races of the season - was that of a truly great driver at the absolute top of his game.

Starting from fourth on the grid in a car no faster than those around it - partly because of a down-on-power engine caused by a lack of cooling in the intense desert heat - his task was by no means straightforward and made severe calls on his racecraft, raw speed and consistency.

His boss Ross Brawn - the man who guided Michael Schumacher to seven world championships - was ready with the superlatives afterwards.

"Even with the car we had last year I saw little flashes of something exceptional from him and the guys on the team that had been here a few years were always telling me he was a bit special," said Brawn. "I just had not been privileged to see it on a regular basis.

"But now with a good car he is able to deliver and I think that first proper win from the front in Australia [Button won in Hungary 2006 but in an incident-packed race from the middle of the grid] has given him a confidence that has brought an extra dimension.

"His speed is quite exceptional, yet you would never know it watching him because he's so incredibly smooth."

Jenson Button's Brawn car during the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend
Button's smooth style means he is deceptively fast in the car

Earlier this year, Button's team-mate Rubens Barrichello - the man who partnered Schumacher for six years at Ferrari - told Brazilian reporters that judging from what he was seeing this year, Button was as talented and skilled as Schumacher, only not as consistent.

So far this year Barrichello has been shaded just as clearly by Button as he used to be by Schumacher but in his previous two years alongside Button at Honda, they were much more evenly matched than has been the case so far this year.

The reasons for this also explain the lack of Schumacher- or Alonso-like relentlessness in Button.

It is because he has a very specific driving style that is unsuited to instability, particularly on corner entry. He needs a car with a predictable, consistent handling balance.

Give him that and he can squeeze more from it than almost any other driver.

In these circumstances he carries a huge amount of momentum into the corners, typically by coming off the brakes earlier than most, and his transition between the braking and accelerating phase are as silkily smooth as his exquisite steering and throttle inputs. He is the smoothest, most sensitive driver in F1, bar none.

Hamilton can get more out of a mediocre car, but put each of them in a good one and they would be extremely closely matched

However, give him a car in which the rear end darts nervously around under braking or which does not turn in as decisively as he needs, and he struggles. He is, in other words, fantastic in a good car, ordinary in a bad one.

He is not a swashbuckling, attacking driver in the way that Lewis Hamilton, for example, is. Hamilton can get more out of a mediocre car, as he is proving at the moment, but put each of them in a good one and they would be extremely closely matched.

Button's particular skill translates wonderfully well in the wet. This was invariably when Brawn saw those little flashes of genius last year.

When Sebastian Vettel's Toro Rosso dropped a load of oil on the circuit in Bahrain one year ago, the track was suddenly very slippery and everyone's lap times slowed drastically.

On that lap, Button was faster than anyone else by an astounding margin - in a car that was hopelessly uncompetitive in the dry.

The year before, he completed the wet opening lap of the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in fourth place, having started it 18th! Next time around he took a staggering three seconds out of Fernando Alonso - himself no slouch in the rain.

606: DEBATE
Ernie Beccllestone

It was a similar story during his win in the wet of Hungary 2006. Button won that race only after Alonso retired with a detached wheel.

But what was not generally appreciated was just how fast Button had been eating into Alonso's lead prior to that - about 0.5secs per lap in a less competitive car.

To put Button's success down to the excellence of this year's Brawn car is to grossly under-estimate his talent. There have been many world champions with less raw skill.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books



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see also
Martin Brundle column
27 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Button expects close title battle
27 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Brilliant Button wins in Bahrain
26 Apr 09 |  Formula 1


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