Button: On cloud nine, seeking the Silver lining
Silverstone has a special place in Jenson's heart and he wants to make its last race memorable
Damon Hill is backing Jenson Button to score another victory in next weekend's British Grand Prix, scheduled to be the last run at Silverstone.
Hill, the former champion who won the 1994 race and is now president of the British Racing Drivers' Club who own the track, believes that Button is in the zone he needs to be in to produce his best ever performance there. "Jenson has been in F1 quite some time and there were times he could have broken through," Hill said. "Now he has and he is completely relaxed about it and loving every minute.
"Everyone tries to be an exception to the rule when they come in to F1," he added, "but I don't think there are any. There are some exceptional drivers, however, and Jenson is one of them. So is Lewis [Hamilton]. You can lose that sparkle when things get hard and you don't have a good car, but Jenson has got it back and is filling up again."
Button loves Silverstone. "The layout of the circuit makes it one of the greats, like Suzuka and Spa," the Brawn driver said. "It's fast and flowing, and from Copse to Club it is very fast. There are not many circuits like this any more. The speed of change of direction is phenomenal, and that makes it the perfect place to show an F1 car's performance.
"I remember watching the crowd here when Nigel Mansell won in 1987 after beating Nelson Piquet. It was great to see so much emotion at a grand prix. That's why there is something very special about the fans at home.
"Another special one for me was in 2000. I was 20 years old when I arrived here with little experience. David Coulthard was very quick in a McLaren and I qualified my Williams well and passed Michael [Schumacher] on the outside of Copse at the start and went on to finish fifth on nine cylinders. That was a great race. The crowd was still going wild when I crossed the line after DC won. It was a great day for the British, and that was probably the most emotional race I have been in.
"I've had a couple of good finishes there and some poor qualifying, but the support has always been fantastic and I'm very grateful for it. Even when times were bad for me, the atmosphere was still great. Last year I was amazed by the support, and a little embarrassed as we were not performing as well as we'd have liked. That was such a nice feeling. Repay is the wrong word, but this weekend I want to give the fans something they can enjoy."
Button believes that his Brawn will be as strong at Silverstone as it was when he dominated in Turkey last weekend, but warns that Red Bull Racing will also be fast.
"They will be stronger than they were in Turkey. I was surprised by their pace there. There is only one really high-speed corner there, but for some reason their pace in it was not strong. They have been better than us in the high-speed corners all year. So, I don't know, but we did take a step forward with the balance of our car in Turkey. It should work well at Silverstone, but Red Bull and Ferrari will be the biggest threats."
Button added: "Our car seems to be working everywhere, but we need to sort out our Fridays a bit better so we can be a bit more confident. But our race pace is good."
He is also expecting his team-mate Rubens Barrichello to be at his most threatening on a circuit where he regularly blew Schumacher off the track when they were teamed together at Ferrari.
"Rubens will be a big challenge. Those three – Rubens, the Red Bulls and Ferrari – will challenge me for sure. We all want to win Silverstone, that's why we're here. I want to win every race. When you have a competitive car, that has to be your aim, it doesn't need to be said.
"Rubens is a tough guy, and always goes well there. We are team-mates and team players and both give maximum feedback. But on the circuit we are head to head. We are competitors, and that's the way it should be.
"I don't know what situation Rubens had before at Ferrari, but watching from afar there were times when he had to slow down and let Michael win. Team orders were allowed then, of course, and that is no longer the case. We have exactly the same equipment and are both out to do the best job that we can."
It isn't just Hill who has been impressed by the "new" Button in 2009. Sir Jackie Stewart recently likened his style to that of Alain Prost, which means so silky smooth that it looks slow but is in fact deceptively fast and takes little out of the car.
"It's a massive compliment," admits Button. "I was a big fan of Alain's and what he achieved, and I loved his driving style. Coming from Jackie, that's really nice to hear.
"I wouldn't say that I modelled myself on anyone, not many do. At an early age my father pointed out to me which line to take, and though I've had some help with my driving style I haven't really gone away from what I developed in those early days in a kart. I try to be smooth because that way you make fewer mistakes, and you look after the tyres and equipment. I've had this style now for 21 years..."
In the right car, it works beautifully. He says there are no negatives ahead of his home race, knowing full well he will emerge still leading the World Championship whatever happens. But the crucial difference is that whereas in the past there was just hope, now there is expectation.
"That's always a thing you have to get used to. And you are not always going to win, and we have got to be ready for that situation. I try my best in every race and at the moment that is good enough to win, which is fantastic, but for sure there will be some times when that isn't the case. And we have to be strong enough when that happens.
"It was a huge moment for the British fans when Lewis won at home in 2008 and then went on to win the title. That was amazing for British motorsport and for Britain as a whole. It was fantastic.
"Now I have a lead of 26 points, and it puts a smile on my face just saying it. So I am aiming to win, of course. And I hope all of that helps the continuation of the British GP because it is so important. I could not imagine not having one. I would never understand why it wouldn't happen."
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