Button losing race against time
Honda driver warns fans not to expect home win at British Grand Prix
Sunday 04 June 2006
Jenson Button might not quite define pressure as the exertion of continuous force on one body by another, but the 26-year-old Englishman is one of several top dogs who go into next week's British Grand Prix over-burdened by it. So much so that, after an excruciatingly disappointing season thus far, in which he had expected to be fighting for the world championship with Messrs Alonso, Raikkonen and Schumacher but has not been, he has already cautioned his legion of fans not to expect too much of him.
You have to feel sorry for the guy. He is quick, of that there is no doubt. But where rivals Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher have the equipment to do the job, Button does not. Not yet. Honda are struggling to get their RA106 right, and doubtless they will, but it is a matter of time, and it won't have happened since Monaco.
"People really shouldn't expect too much," Button says plaintively, his words dripping with quiet frustration, as you and he both know that he is unlikely to follow in the wheeltracks of Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Sir Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, John Watson, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill and win at home.
Honda tested in Barcelona last week, and Button said: "It went well. We did our normal tyre-testing programme for the British Grand Prix, which was very useful. We also looked at set-up work to resolve the issues we experienced in Monaco, and focused on finding a set-up which is consistent. We did a great deal of work and we are getting the maximum out of the car at the moment." To decode that, it means they have not made the step forward they need to make to catch Renault and Ferrari, nor, possibly, McLaren.
Meanwhile, Schumacher comes to Silverstone with his face as red as his Ferrari after being branded a cheat by the FIA stewards during qualifying in Monaco. At a stroke, he undid all the good he has done since he last did the same thing, when fighting Jacques Villeneuve for the title in Jerez back in 1997.
Of course, even the toilet cleaner at Ferrari will tell you he did not get a fair hearing, but he did. And this is what one steward, Joaquin Verdegay, told the Italian paper Gazetta dello Sport: "It was a painful decision because we could not make a mistake and put the reputation of the driver at risk. We don't know if the entire manoeuvre was deliberate, but in that spot he had certainly not done anything like that throughout the weekend; he braked over 50 per cent more heavily than on other laps.
"Then he did some absolutely unnecessary and pathetic counter-steering, and that lasted five metres, until there were no more chances of going through the turn normally.
"He lost control of the car while travelling at 16 kph! That's something completely unjustifiable. If he had damaged the car, we would probably have filed it as an error. To 'park' it that way, you only do it deliberately."
The whole episode dredged up all the bad things in Schumacher's past: taking Damon Hill off in Adelaide in 1994 to win his first crown; the Villeneuve incident; winning at Silverstone in 1998 only after taking a stop-and-go penalty in the pits as he crossed the line on the last lap; phantom spins there when he tried to give himself the best starting position for final qualifying; the swerve there in 2003 that put Fernando Alonso on the grass at 190mph.
Quite possibly Schumacher will win next weekend. But so long as Alonso gets on the pod-ium, the Spaniard will not be that bothered. With a 21-point lead it will be a long time before Schumacher can catch him, barring unreliability or accident. So while Button and Schumacher will be feeling the pressure; Alonso remains the man exerting it.
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