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Can Jenson Button win the title against all odds?
Wednesday 05th September 2012, 20:36 by Daniel Chalmers
Jenson Button’s dream weekend in Spa has suddenly put him right back into title contention just when it looked all but over.
If he had written a script for his dream weekend it probably would have come very close to what turned out to be reality. He was on devastating form in a great car, with the problems of previous races put behind him. Plus he scored 25 points more than his team mate and the championship leader.
The two major issues for Button coming into Spa were that he was more than three race wins behind championship leader Fernando Alonso. Perhaps more significantly the gap between himself and Lewis was growing to the point where team orders were starting to become a talking point.
He is now 63 points behind Fernando. That is definitely a deficit that is possible to make up with a very good run. Under the old championship system that is the equivalent of just over 25 points.
That’s a gap we have seen drivers bounce back from in the past. With 10 races to go in 2007 Kimi Raikkonen was 26 points behind points leader Hamilton and won the title. Back in 2006 it took Michael Schumacher just seven races to claw back a 25 points deficit to Alonso in the second half of that season.
Button is now just 16 points behind his team mate in the driver’s championship. With the pair that close, there is now absolutely no possibility of team orders being discussed.
However the most important two things for Button is that he is now back on his best form, and that McLaren have made a huge leap forward in the last three races after a difficult period. The Woking squad are now looking quite formidable.
Button and McLaren have been the strongest combination of the last three races.
Combine a formidable car with a happy and in form Jenson, and you have a combination that the rest of the grid should be very worried about.
Discussing his mid-season slump Jenson explained: "I find (the tyres) very difficult to understand, that's why we tried a few new things this year in Canada and Monaco and places like that, because I felt I needed to find a bit more direction with the tyres, and what we tried definitely didn't work."
He added: "So we went back to what we had at the start of the year at Valencia, and that's when we started being more competitive in terms of me within the team being more competitive, not compared to Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull but compared to Lewis (Hamilton)."
At the German GP they brought a significant update to the car and since then they have been very competitive.
That event was also the first time the team were able to make the most of their Silverstone upgrade the race before. A wet weekend made it very hard to learn about the updates in that event.
Button pushed Alonso all the way in Germany. If it hadn’t been for a poor team qualifying performance (in the rain) it would very likely have been a McLaren win. In Hungary Lewis took a dominant pole and held on in the race.
In Spa Button was on another level to his opposition all weekend. He produced a brilliant pole lap, and was untouchable in the race.
More significant is that the team have now been very quick on three very different types of track. The Hungaroring is slow and twisty where a very high level of downforce is required.
Whereas Spa is a completely different proposition with long straights and high speed corners. In the low downforce configuration the MP4-27 worked beautifully.
It’s also worth noting that conditions were completely different at both races. Whilst it was very cool in Spa, it was very warm in Hungary.
This suggests that the operating window of the McLaren is widening, which is crucial to being consistently competitive in 2012. A wide operating window has been key to Alonso’s success up to this point this season.
You would have to say that in terms of pace McLaren have now overtaken Ferrari. Lotus appear to still need the right weather conditions to thrive. After the last couple of races there are question marks hanging over Red Bull’s pace too, certainly their one lap pace at least.
Button’s single lap performance has been one of his weaknesses over the years. The fact that he put McLaren on pole in Spa shows that they now have a great car on their hands. The last time he was getting poles was at Brawn at the beginning of 2009 when they had a great car.
When Jenson is happy with the balance of his car, and he can get the tyres working to his liking we have seen how capable he is of going on a long run of success. He is brilliant in a great car.
In the first third of 2009 when Brawn GP had a perfect car Jenson was absolutely unstoppable. He won six out of the first seven races of the year. He produced form that was comparable to some of the sport’s all time greats.
In the last 9 races of 2011, as McLaren improved after a tough start, he only failed to finish on the podium once. Out of those races he finished in the top two five times.
If he can go on a run like that again (or better) from now until the end of the season, then there is no doubt he is in with a chance of winning his second title.
When he is at one with the car he is as strong as any of the great drivers past or present. It’s just a shame that he isn’t as adaptable as some of his rivals when the going is a bit tougher.
If he was then he might have achieved more than the one title and the 14 GP victories to date. Even so, it’s still a CV that many in the sport would love to have.
Furthermore it can’t be underestimated how much confidence and belief the victory in Spa will have given him. He will now feel completely rejuvenated after some of the struggles he has endured this year.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh says: "He was frustrated when things didn't go well, but I think with a performance like that he's got to believe that he is capable of getting up there now."
He added: "Clearly we've got a quick car. We've been quick on both sides of the break on very different circuits and that must be reassuring for him. It must give him the confidence that he can really get the job done."
Of course there is the matter of the driver on the other side of the garage to worry about. Lewis will feel that he could potentially go on a very strong run too. Plus we have seen some of the best form we have seen from the 2008 world champion for a while.
However when Jenson is on form he knows that he can beat Lewis. Let’s think back to the season opener in Melbourne. Button was very happy with the car in that race, and we saw him actually pulling away from Hamilton in the opening laps. It’s going to be a great battle between the pair now.
Button is still very much a long shot for the title. However if McLaren can now maintain this strong form and the 2009 champion continues to drive this well, then there is a definite possibility.
A five horse race has suddenly turned into a six horse race.