Barrichello puts spanner in the works

Britain's Button back in 14th for today's race as Brazilian rival thrills home fans by grabbing pole
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The Independent Online

Jenson Button might have been smiling as he awoke here on Thursday morning, when he admitted to being relaxed after a holiday in Hawaii and ready for the next challenge in his progress to the World Championship, but nobody was smiling when the expected thunderstorms hit Interlagos yesterday. Singapore? Forget it. This looked like a night race where somebody had forgotten about the floodlights.

Bad weather had been anticipated all weekend and most teams had counted themselves lucky that there was just a little light drizzle in each of Friday's get-acquainted-with-the-place-again practice sessions.

For Button, however, six points away from his first world title, it was a complication that he could do without. "It's really strange with the weather," he had said on Thursday. "Tuesday it was cold, yesterday it was really hot and today it's raining. It's very up and down with the conditions and it's going to be the same for the weekend. There's a very good chance of rain but also there is the possibility of it being dry, so it's a tough one."

Alongside him, his Brawn team-mate and principal title challenger, Rubens Barrichello, had tried hard not to smirk. Born within a stone's throw of the Interlagos track, he loves rain and knows the circuit intimately.

"The wet weather has always been good for me. Looking at the forecast it looks like Friday and Saturday could be quite wet and Sunday a little bit better," he said. Don't worry about me, his manner said. Bring it on.

Button has played it cool all weekend and he was happy with the progress he made on Friday. "We achieved more running than we initially expected today with just a few little showers rather than the rain that was forecast," he said. "The car seems to be working well on the prime tyre, which is encouraging, and the pace was good."

Yesterday's weather, however, troubled everyone, causing innumerable delays as cars spun here, there and everywhere. Right away, the gods handed Button one present. A title rival, Sebastian Vettel, failed to make it through the first qualifying session, lining up only 16th in the order. Barring a miracle, his title chances seemed to be over.

But Button's performance in Q2, which took place almost two hours later after more delays because of the weather, raised many questions. He was only 14th, a second slower than Barrichello, who made it through to the final session.

"We made a mistake not switching to the intermediate tyres," Button admitted. "At the start of the session I had way too much understeer in the car on that run, when the circuit wasn't wet like it was in the first session. I couldn't do anything with the car and on lap three the rears started going away, so that was it."

To add salt to that wound, he could then only watch as Barrichello kept his title hopes alive by snatching a brilliant pole position from Mark Webber and Adrian Sutil in a dramatic shootout after the weather rendered this the longest qualifying session in Formula One history.

Lewis Hamilton was down in 18th. Of all the drivers out there, he probably had a better appreciation of what Button was going through. He has been there twice here, unsuccessfully in 2007, when he lost the title at the 11th hour to Kimi Raikkonen, successfully last year, when it was Felipe Massa's turn to play the loser's role.

"It's different for everyone," Hamilton said. "It's different for myself, it's different for Felipe, it's different for Jenson. I can't really tell you what he's feeling or what he's going to go through but for me, I approached it the same ... I arrived here quite relaxed, I was in a good mood, I was in good spirits. It was intense when you arrive at the circuit but that's just your competitiveness coming out. It was just about balancing your mind and your focus and really looking after your energy and doing the best job you can do."

Massa, who will be waving the chequered flag this afternoon, said he would quite like to show it first to Barrichello. "I hope I can show the chequered flag to our team," he said, referring to Ferrari. "I hope that Rubens has a chance to fight for the championship. For sure, if I give the chequered flag to him finishing first I will be very happy. It would be very good for Brazil. But to be honest, Jenson has a greater chance in the World Championship."

And so Button prepares to edge towards his destiny, whatever it may be. The only thing that seems clear is that Interlagos doesn't seem all that inclined to help him on his way. Neither will Barrichello or Vettel.