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Too soon to judge Button v Hamilton

Fernando Alonso

Bahrain Grand Prix in 90 seconds

By Mark Hughes
BBC Formula 1 commentary producer

Looking only at the headline numbers, Lewis Hamilton trounced Jenson Button in the first round of their keenly anticipated contest as McLaren team-mates. The reality is there is nowhere near enough data from that one weekend to make a meaningful comparison.

The difference in the respective weekends of Hamilton, who finished third, and Button who was seventh, in Bahrain were completely accounted for by their performances in qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton is interviewed by Jake Humphrey

Hamilton hopes for more downforce (UK users only)

Hamilton was 0.4 seconds quicker - enough to account for four places on the grid. That was the difference between breaking free past the slower Mercedes in the race and not.

Button's entire race was spent bottled in the pack dictated by Michael Schumacher's Mercedes. Hamilton, by contrast, was between Schumacher and Nico Rosberg in the first sting, but an early stop leapfrogged him clear of Rosberg and into clean air. There was never an opportunity to see what Button's true race pace might have been.

An instructive little moment unfolded in the final qualifying session, when the wind direction suddenly changed 90 degrees from how it had been in the previous session just a few minutes before.

Not knowing this, Button suddenly felt the car "go strange" through one of the corners of the middle sector. Assuming there was a technical problem with the car, he was somewhat cautious for the rest of the lap, braking early, taking less speed into the corners.

Hamilton, going through the same change of wind direction, felt nothing and charged on with the lap that netted him the fourth fastest time.


It's a reflection of how they each feel the car in very different ways, Button highly attuned to each nuance of its feedback, Hamilton simply dominating the car, much more reactive rather than anticipative.

They are traits suited to different circumstances. The reactive driver will have a wider operating range, will get more from the car over a wider range of handling traits and will be less sensitive to variations in the handling.

Assuming a similar level of basic talent, an anticipative driver - in this case, Button - will be better able to squeeze the ultimate from a well balanced car.

The McLaren at Bahrain in low-fuel qualifying trim was anything but well-balanced. It was an over-stiff bucking handful of a car with not enough downforce, one that was particularly ill-suited to the track's very bumpy additional loop.

These were the perfect set of circumstances to show Hamilton's greater adaptability - and he was 0.4 seconds quicker in each of the three sessions.

However, when loaded up with fuel the McLaren was nowhere near as bad, with more benign behaviour over the bumps and none of the oscillating rocking motion through Turns Six to Eight that so stymied it in qualifying.

 Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button

Hamilton and Button go head-to-head (UK only)

In the practice sessions, when both drivers did long, multi-lap runs, there was virtually nothing between the two drivers. In fact, if anything, Button looked marginally quicker.

Race day might have seen this pattern repeated had Button also found clear air and not been trapped in traffic all afternoon; but for that to have happened required him to have done a more Hamilton-like job in qualifying.

Both drivers will obviously be hoping the McLaren can be improved quickly. But for Button it's even more important than Hamilton.

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see also
We can match Ferrari - Hamilton
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Bahrain Grand Prix race results
18 Feb 10 |  Results
Bahrain GP as it happened
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Vettel stuns Ferrari to grab pole
13 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
What's at stake in Hamilton v Button
08 Mar 10 |  Formula 1

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