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Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 10:39 UK

Nerves threaten Button's title bid

Jenson Button

Review - 2009 drivers' championship so far

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Jenson Button showed all the signs of classic 'title tension' at the European Grand Prix.

Talking to the media on the eve of the race weekend, the Brawn driver appeared so caught up in the dynamics and mathematics of what could play out in the remaining races to threaten his championship lead that it was in danger of affecting his performance.

And Button's performance in both qualifying and the race at Valencia tended to confirm that impression.

In circumstances that perfectly suited the Brawn - as underlined by the impressive victory of team-mate Rubens Barrichello - the Englishman made a critical qualifying error at the crucial moment and was then too tentative in the race.

Jenson Button

Button 'happy' for Barrichello

This difficulty in finding the balance between aggression and circumspection is a classic manifestation of the prospect of a world championship driver tightening up, making him too self-conscious, not intuitive enough. Lewis Hamilton suffered similar moments in the latter halves of both 2007 and 2008.

"I was losing sleep with my mind in overdrive at the start of the summer break," Button admitted on Thursday. "It was only after I'd done the triathlon and spent some time with my girlfriend and friends that I started to relax a little."

He has had a lot to think about.

Not only was there the hanging question of where his car's pace had gone and the worry about a Red Bull that took a huge step forward with its Silverstone upgrade, but there was also the new-found competitiveness of the Kers-equipped McLarens.

The implications of this on the points dynamics at the top of the table were still vexing Button as he arrived at Valencia.

"Having two Kers McLarens - and sometimes a Ferrari too - around us at the start potentially makes the strategic options very complicated," said.

"Even if they qualify behind us, they aren't going to be far behind and have every chance of passing us at the start.

"It screws your strategy straight away. If you go short you're screwed, if you go long you are because then you're eighth on the grid. The easiest way around it is just to be quicker than everyone - then the strategy is easy - but that's not always possible.

Button managed only a mediocre seventh, a pale shadow of the sky-high confident guy in the first half of the year that could do no wrong

Mark Hughes

"I think if you look back in previous years this is pretty unique. You've got the worry of fighting for a championship, but then this extra complication too."

All true enough, but probably not worth overheating your brain for. Best leave that to team boss Ross Brawn and just concentrate on staying in the zone of performance that allows you to maximise the car - at whatever level it happens to be on any given weekend.

At Valencia there was a track layout and a scorching track temperature that perfectly suited the characteristics of the Brawn and which worked very much against the Red Bull. The perfect opportunity to score some big points over Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, in other words.

Yet Button managed only a mediocre seventh, a pale shadow of the sky-high confident guy in the first half of the year that could do no wrong.

This weekend we go to a fast, long-cornered and almost certainly cool Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix - circumstances perfect for Red Bull, ill-suited to the Brawn.

Button's team will be repeating the back-to-back comparison on Friday morning that they did in the equivalent session at Valencia in an effort to find if some of their more recent developments have intensified the car's dislike for cool track temperatures.

But even if these give a clear picture, it's unlikely to transform the car in such conditions.

Rubens Barrichello

European Grand Prix in 90 seconds

"All we can look to do is minimise the worst effects of that," says Barrichello's race engineer Jock Clear. "It's a fundamental characteristic of the car's design, just as is the Red Bull's problems with short corners and high temperatures that suit us so well.

"That pattern between the two cars will remain. All that might happen is that both teams soften the downsides of the characteristics."

Supremely difficult as it is, Button needs now to simply trust in his technical team, accept the variations in the car's competitiveness and try to relax into that confident and relaxed zone he was in during the season's first half when the car was invariably at the front.

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
24 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
I must find form, admits Button
25 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Barrichello targets second straight win
23 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
European Grand Prix race results
05 Aug 09 |  Results
Barrichello snatches Valencia win
23 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
European GP as it happened
23 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
European Grand Prix photos
23 Aug 09 |  Formula 1
Brawn set to dominate F1
31 Mar 09 |  Formula 1


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