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2013 - Button's best shot at a second title
Friday 01st February 2013, 07:10 by Daniel Chalmers
2013 represents Jenson Button’s best opportunity to win his second Formula 1 title, and from his demeanour at McLaren's 2013 launch you sense that he is fully aware of that.
In fact he may never get as good a chance, as there are a whole host of factors going in his favour this season. From 2014 there may not be as many.
At the launch of the MP4-28 the 2009 world champion appeared incredibly confident, relaxed and very excited.
He said: "I feel like a kid again like when I was 20 years old."
He added "I always get excited about a new car but for some reason this year has been even more exciting, and keeping up to date with my engineers with the development of the car and the direction. It’s been good."
McLaren ended last year with the quickest car in Brazil, and with stable regulations they should be able to carry that forward into 2013.
At first glance the MP4-28 may look like a simple evolution of last year’s car, but there are a number of changes including a higher nose and revised side-pod air intakes.
With Hamilton now driving for Mercedes, Jenson doesn’t have to contend with his sheer speed in the same car anymore. Whilst Button is comparable to Lewis in many areas (in some cases stronger), the new Mercedes driver has a few extra tenths in his pocket, pace wise.
There is no doubt that Hamilton is going to be a factor this year, but in 2013 Mercedes will have to take a gigantic leap forwards to win the championship.
There is also the other factor that they might choose to focus more on 2014, when the massive regulation changes come in. F1 will start from a clean sheet of paper like in 2009.
Button is now leading the design team for a car that suits his style more: "The feelings I got last year and the development curve and direction we went in last year is good for my style."
He added: "I had some issues through the season and the great thing with McLaren is they listen to what drivers say."
Qualifying has been an issue throughout Button’s career. In what is likely to be another season where tight margins cover the grid, an average lap on Saturday gives drivers the risk of starting a long way back.
However 2013’s new spec Pirelli could ease that issue for Jenson: "Qualifying at times last year was not good at all.
"I still go back to it being the issue that I have had in my career in terms of getting my tyres working and in the working range.
"I don't know why that is. I must drive differently to everyone else on the grid. We have learned a lot from last season and we have made steps forward.
"We also have a tyre in 2013 that does help me. It has a much wider working range so I am not fearful of those issues again," he added.
Jenson’s new team-mate Sergio Perez is still learning and realistically you would expect his first McLaren season to be a mixture of highs and lows. Sergio will give Button a good battle but in all honesty he isn’t in the same class as Lewis (certainly not at the moment anyway).
He is definitely a beatable team-mate from Button’s perspective. Even more so in Perez’s first year with the team.
From 2014 onwards a number of factors could go against Jenson. Significant changes to the engine rules (the introduction of V6 turbocharged engines) mean that being a manufacturer/factory team will be a distinct advantage. McLaren will be Mercedes customers and will have to pay for their engines.
Whilst you can be sure Mercedes will be very fair with McLaren there is a distinct disadvantage.
The Mercedes team will be working very closely with their engine department throughout the process, to ensure that it fits around the design philosophies of their car. They will be fitting the engine around their car.
McLaren won’t enjoy as close a relationship as that.
Over at Woking it may be more a case of fitting the car around the engine as Mercedes give it to them. So that is in fact quite a significant difference.
The same disadvantage also applies against their other key rivals Ferrari and Red Bull (who are now the factory Renault team). You could find that at Red Bull Adrian Newey will effectively be designing the engine. Quite a scary thought.
The prediction of many is that engines are going to become a key parameter in the 2014 title battle, which hasn’t been the case for a number of years thanks to the engine freeze.
So if it turns out that being merely a customer, does hurt McLaren under these new regulations, then it will definitely impact on their title chances.
There will be question marks about the Mercedes team's performance going into 2013. However they have the potential to be quite formidable in 2014.
Remember this is a team who have adapted very well to sweeping rule changes in the past. In 2009 as Brawn GP they tore the opposition apart in the first third of the year.
They are supremely confident in their 2014 engine. Plus their new signings over the last couple of seasons should have all gelled together.
If this hypothesis comes true then Jenson will again find Lewis very hard to beat.
2014 will also be Perez’s second season in Woking. In his second year he will have developed and matured a lot. He may well become a much tougher driver to beat. At only 23 years of age there is still plenty of improvements to be found.
F1 drivers tend to be at their peak between the ages of 27-31. Sergio has a few years to go until he reaches that age bracket, whereas Jenson at 33 has just gone past it.
In fact Jenson’s situation isn’t too dissimilar to the one David Coulthard found himself in back in 2002. Double world champion Mika Hakkinen went on a sabbatical (which then turned into permanent retirement). In came a youngster by the name of Kimi Raikkonen (who like Perez, moved from Sauber to join McLaren)
The thought was that Coulthard would assume the number one role, and with Hakkinen now out of his way had a great chance to win the title. He was the leader points wise in 2002 (although the car was nowhere near quick enough to win the title).
However in 2003 Raikkonen moved up to another level and became the team’s main title protagonist.
Button will have to be wary of the fact that history could repeat itself.
Certainly in the short term at least life is looking pretty good for Jenson. Although let’s wait and see what lies beneath the covers over at Milton Keynes before we get ahead of ourselves.