Button looks to stretch F1 lead in Monaco

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The Independent Online

Formula One forgets its off-track money worries this weekend as the sport returns to the glamorous streets of Monte Carlo for the Monaco GP, with Jenson Button looking to tighten his grip on the championship with a fifth win of the season.

Button has a 14-point lead over Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello in the overall standings, and will try to pull away even more with another victory in the tiny principality.

The other teams, meanwhile, want to finally end Brawn's surprising dominance in the first five races.

Ferrari showed its car had improved at the Spanish GP while Red Bull has stayed close to its British rival since the start of the season, with Sebastian Vettel the only other driver to win a race this season. Vettel is third in the standings, 18 points behind Button.

"It is important to stop Brawn GP from winning, not just for us but for everyone," Vettel said today. "We'd like to turn the whole thing around."

Brawn is well positioned to take advantage at the season's slowest circuit, where concentration is key as drivers navigate a twisting harbor-front track for 78 laps. A single lapse in concentration is enough to see a driver's day end in the wall.

"Here it is a completely different game," Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais said. "You can't be sure of what is going to happen."

Barrichello will be desperate to pick up his first victory since 2004 in his 17th appearance at F1's most glamorous track — especially after the Brazilian appeared to question the team orders at Barcelona, where a strategy change may have cost him the victory in favor of Button.

"Experience counts," said Barrichello, who — like all drivers — will be eyeing a great qualifying session on Saturday since the principality's narrow streets offer few genuine passing chances.

Rain provided for one of the more dramatic races of recent times last season when Lewis Hamilton clipped a back tire off the wall early on, but recovered to take the win.

The scenes of elation at McLaren that ensued have not been witnessed this year as the defending champion struggles in a car that has lacked pace, although the 24-year-old Hamilton is hopeful that an upgrade may help.

"I really hope so, because it would be fantastic to have a competitive car and to be fighting at the front again," Hamilton said.

Felipe Massa's championship hopes are slim after a sixth-place showing in Spain left him 38 points behind Button, but the Ferrari driver said his car's improved performance meant it could still be a factor.

"Last race we proved a big step forward, we were very competitive during the race. Here it is a very different track compared to the ones we've raced to now ... I think it will be different for everyone," said the Brazilian, who recently announced he is about to become a father. "I really think the Monte Carlo race can be the turning point in our season."

Ferrari has not triumphed in Monaco since Michael Schumacher in 2001.

Ferrari received a further setback Wednesday when a French court dismissed its bid to stop Formula One from instituting a budget cap next season.

Ferrari has complained that the cost-saving measure will create a two-tier competition and has threatened to withdraw from the sport.

"The main thing is it's not over yet," Massa said. "I just want a better sport for the fans, because we race because of them."

Brawn team principal Ross Brawn said that there is extra pressure at Monaco due to the hectic atmosphere alongside pit lane, where celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Novak Djokovic are expected to watch the 67th edition of the classic from one of the docked yachts that will fill the marina.

The neighboring Cannes film festival also promises to bring in the stars for Sunday's race, while practice is held on Thursday since tradition dictates that Friday remains a free day.

"The pit lane and paddock is an intense environment to work in due to the location at the heart of the city and it is therefore more stressful than any other race on the calendar," Brawn said. "You can make just one mistake in Monaco and your race weekend will be compromised."