Jenson Button is likely to start towards the back of the grid at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix after his McLaren team were hit with further engine penalties. But he has more on his mind than how new procedures might affect each driver’s getaway when the red lights go out on Sunday afternoon after Formula One’s summer break.
The 35-year-old reflected on the traumatic burglary of his rented house in St Tropez, when his wife Jessica and friends awoke to find jewellery and other valuables missing earlier this month.
“It was a horrible situation, and one I understand other people in the south of France have experienced,” he said. “When I woke up I noticed the drawer beside the bed was open and the door was only pushed shut, whereas I always close it.
“To think that somebody has been eight centimetres away from your wife’s head while you are sleeping… You can replace money and jewellery, but not your health.
“After the incident I had in Brazil a few years ago [an attempted hold-up by armed men in Sao Paulo in 2010], you to have to worry. We move on, but it’s always there in the back of your mind.”
So is the spectre of Honda’s poor performance. The Japanese manufacturer have upgraded their engine here and engineer Yasuhisa Arai speaks of “matching Ferrari’s power,” a claim which McLaren have played down.
Button himself was notably cautious. “We’ll see when we get out on the circuit,” he said, “and then we’ll know exactly where we are.”
He was hopeful, however, he can gain an advantage if he masters the new starting procedure of being allowed to actuate only one of his two clutch pedals, after the FIA ruled that drivers had to set their own clutch bite point with the other one before they leave the pits for the grid and may no longer rely on advice from their engineers. “We could make up four or five places easily,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton is likely to be at the opposite end of the grid in his Mercedes. Despite making poor starts in the last three races, the world champion believes the team have addressed the reasons why.
“This feels like a really good weekend,” he said. “And if I don’t know what to do on a grid formation lap without speaking with my engineer, I might as well give up.”