Tyre trick did it for Button
Jenson Button’s victory was a result of his flawless driving, not just on Sunday but for the whole Monaco Grand Prix weekend. We tend to forget that he was struggling in Thursday’s practice sessions. Languishing near the bottom of the timesheets, he was outpaced by Brawn GP teammate Barrichello. His car lacked grip and consistency.
Button nonetheless worked solidly with his engineers and made significant improvements. "It’s the big difference between last year’s car and this," said Button before the race. "This year, when we talk to the car, trying new settings, the car listens." In qualifying, Button delivered a ‘lap of the gods’ that even baffled his own team.
His fastest lap was two-tenths of a second faster than Barrichello’s and 25 thousandths of a second faster than Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Those tiny fractions were the difference between pole and second row.
In the race, the margins opened up to whole seconds, then tens of seconds as Button simply drove away from the rest, including Barrichello, who made a superb start to spring ahead of Raikkonen into Saint Devote corner, but he was powerless to match Button’s pace. Button’s secret, I think, was his ability to manage his tyres’ performance. This year, tyremaker Bridgestone have introduced a bigger difference in performance between the regular ‘prime’ and the softer ‘option’ tyre. Costing nothing extra, it has added a new dimension to every dry race this year. In Monaco, the ‘prime’ delivered its performance for a longer period with more stability. The ‘option’ tyre was initially faster, but deteriorated more quickly. Button and his engineers were able to manage the performance of both sets of tyres perfectly.
If you want to look at how not to do it, look at Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull was all over the track after overheating its tyres in the early part of the race and was losing nearly four seconds a lap as he trailed the top three. Bottled behind him, a frustrated Massa could only fume, as any chance of a podium place evaporated when the leading threesome disappeared into the distance.
Barrichello struggled to manage his tyres as consistently as Button. It could have even meant that he lost his second place to Raikkonen, but a slow Ferrari pitstop enabled Barrichello to maintain his track position and cement a Brawn GP 1-2.
For Ferrari, the day was a mixture of frustration that niggling problems, such as Raikkonen’s fumbled pitstop, robbed them of a better result, but relief that the car is once again a true contender.
Meanwhile, Button cruised serenely to victory. His only mistake of the weekend was when he parked his car in the wrong place after the chequered flag, driving back into the paddock rather than parking on the start line. His jog along the track kept Prince Albert and the royal party waiting, but it was noteworthy that the forest of hands extended in congratulation from the pit wall included members of every team, including Ferrari.
All those hard-bitten professionals appreciated that Button was a worthy winner.
Steve Slater is a F1 commentator on Espn Star Sports.