Jenson Button is pinning his hopes on a change of tyres to turn the tables for McLaren against Red Bull in the Monaco Grand Prix this Sunday.
Once the status quo was established in the opening race in Melbourne, with Red Bull setting the pace from McLaren, the two have dominated the constructors' table – Red Bull and McLaren are on 185 points to 138, with Ferrari back on only 75. But Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers' title race after winning four grands prix out of five.
Monaco requires the highest level of downforce available, which in theory ought to favour Red Bull, as it did last year when Mark Webber won. But most drivers are agreed that tyre performance could be the most critical factor here, and that could undermine even the fastest. There are many slow corners, which require good mechanical performance as well as downforce, and just to make things even more complex Pirelli have, for the first time this season, matched their fast-wearing soft-compound tyres with the even less durable supersofts.
"We haven't run the supersoft for a long time," Button said yesterday. "It's going to last longer than on some other circuits, but strategy-wise it is very difficult to know what to do. If you get into a race situation there's more tyre degradation than you expect, and you are going to have to think on your feet. There could be two pit stops, or five."
Button, who won in 2009 then ran to the podium after forgetting where to stop his Brawn, summarised the joy of victory on the hardest track in Formula One. "I forgot where the podium was because it was five years since I'd last been there, but that was the most enjoyable 200 metres I've ever had to run. This is a very special race, always one you'd love to win, because even when leading it's very stressful, mentally very draining. It gives you very special emotions, because you celebrate victory not just with your team but with everyone here, everyone in Monaco gets involved."
Michael Schumacher, who infamously had parking problems of a different kind here in 2006 and who is shooting to equal Ayrton Senna's record of six wins at the track, said: "It's the race of the year, the highest emotion, the highest prestige. And this year all predictions are out of the window."