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Motor Racing

Button fights back to snatch pole

Briton tames wayward car as crash hits Hamilton's hopes

If the Formula One team principals saw any irony in these cost-conscious times about discussing Max Mosley's much-vexed budget cap on one of the largest yachts in the Monaco harbour – Flavio Briatore's, of course – they hid it well. Loftier matters occupied their minds, not least the very future of their sport.

They admit that spending must be cut in line with the global recession, but they do not like Mosley's proposal of a voluntary £40 million cap which would create a two-tier world championship in which those who sign up would enjoy a superior technical package than those who prefer to maintain an unlimited spend.

And nor, it became increasingly clear over a weekend of stand-offs, do they care for the dictatorial way in which he runs things.

After one of the meetings Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari and of the Formula One Teams Association put it bluntly when he said: "We will not enter in the championship with these rules and this governance." Ferrari, together with Red Bull, Renault and Toyota, had already made it clear in the run-up to today's race that they have no interest in entering F1 in 2010 if Mosley's proposal remains as it is.

Meanwhile the streets of Monaco were devoid of traffic and people. Two weeks ago, the Spanish Grand Prix was remarkable for a drop in attendance of 42 per cent despite the tremendous popularity of Fernando Alonso. But that was Spain and this was Monaco. The jewel in the Formula One crown, remember?

Of course, this may be due to the global recession. In the UK in particular, even casual F1 fans have been captivated by the battle between Brawn and Red Bull as Ferrari and McLaren have faltered. But there are also signs that fans are turning off because they are bored by the endless politics.

There were informed whispers in the paddock that Bernie Ecclestone was canvassing opinion whether Mosley, his longtime ally, should go. The commercial rights holder is said to be under huge pressure from partner CVC Holdings to maximise income, and to get things sorted out quickly before the 29 May deadline for 2010 entries comes and goes.

Make no mistake, these are tense days for Formula One. Which is even more ironic than the meeting aboard the Good Ship Flav, because the racing this year has been nothing short of brilliant. Lap times here have been phenomenally close – indicating that, while Mosley's hardline stance on budgets might not be gaining him popularity there is not much wrong with the rule changes he introduced.

And qualifying yesterday saw a major battle between the Brawns and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, as the other fancied runner, Lewis Hamilton, took himself out of contention by whacking a wall in Q1. For a while it seemed that Raikkonen would take the pole in his rejuvenated Ferrari, as a series of quick laps left him on 1min 14.927sec, but right at the end Jenson Button rushed through to take his fourth pole for Brawn with 1: 14.902. Team-mate Rubens Barrichello, celebrating his 37th birthday, snatched third in 1:15.077.

"Today was a really tight fight," Button said, and most of the weekend he had been off his usual pace, struggling to tame his car's wayward front end. "Rubens has definitely had the upper hand," he admitted, "and McLaren and Ferrari have been up there, with Red Bull. Qualifying was manic, as it always is in Monaco, and it was great to come back and snatch pole.

"It might all look perfect from the outside, but I was a long way off on Thursday. It might seem a negative attitude, but I honestly didn't think I was gonna outqualify Rubens, so I'll go to bed happy but also thinking about tomorrow. This circuit is very unusual. People say if you're quick here you're a master, but it's just different, that's all. I'm very happy to have worked closely with the team this weekend to get the most out of the car and put it on pole."

His lap was not without its problems, though. "I was too much on the edge, but it was a good lap. I was able to get everything out of the car and it was the best lap I've done this weekend. But going through the Swimming Pool section I thought I was going to end up in Flavio's boat. It was a really enjoyable lap."

Not so Hamilton's. "It's just taking some time to reflect on things, analyse it, and understand exactly what's gone on," he had said the previous day when attempting to put his recent problems into perspective. "And then to be able to grow from it. You can't just get on with things. You have to be able to analyse it so you don't make the same mistake again."

Unfortunately, he made a different kind of mistake yesterday, which is unusual for him. He got out of shape approaching Portier and swiped the wall hard resulting in a gearbox change which dropped the Briton from 16th to last place on the starting grid

"I braked too late," he admitted. "It's unfortunate, but these things happen. It's not been a good day. I had the possibility of being on the front row. But I'll learn from this, drive my heart out tomorrow and see what happens."