Button puts the squeeze on to secure first pole position
Sunday 25 April 2004
Thank the Lord for Jenson Button and BAR Honda. In a season fast turning red, their performance here yesterday placed Ferrari and Michael Schumacher under so much pressure that the world champion screwed up his qualifying lap and failed to take pole position. The honour remained with Button for the first time - and, not surprisingly, he was delighted.
"The key was not to push the tyres too hard through the last two sectors. It's tremendous for the team and for me. And the best thing about starting from pole is that there isn't anything in front of me. It's been a while since I've had that. What I did in the first two sectors was absolutely the best I could do, and now I can't wait for the race."
David Coulthard, the Schumacher brothers and Montoya all ran after Button had wrested the initiative from Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian had lapped in 1min 20.451sec, but Button's 1m 19.753s zapped that. Coulthard did not have the pace to better 1m 21.091s, Ralf did 1m 20.538s, and then came Michael. The world champion beat Button's first-sector time but then he ran wide on the exit of the tricky Variante Alta, and the time lost proved critical. He managed 1m 20.011s, and sporting director Jean Todt's face looked thunderous.
Now only Montoya could beat Button but the Colombian also came up short, though his 1m 20.212s pushed Barrichello to fourth.
Both Schumacher and Montoya were magnanimous. "When Jenson set me that target I really had to push," Schumacher admitted. "It was all or nothing and I thought I had it covered... He did a brilliant lap." When he saw Button's time, Montoya admitted he was amazed. "I thought: 'Where did that come from?' It was a very good lap." Indeed, it was.
It has been an odd weekend here. If ever proof were needed that Formula One is a living entity, Imola provided it. The 10th anniversary of the tragic 1994 race generated many poignant memories of that weekend when God turned his back and the quiet determination of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and the white-hot brilliance of Ayrton Senna were extinguished and the sport was changed forever. The main grandstand is to be renamed in the Brazilian's honour, and this morning his old team-mate Gerhard Berger - "Ayrton taught me how to operate over a race weekend and I taught him how to live" - will demonstrate one of Senna's former John Player Special Lotuses.
But while it started as a weekend to look back, on Friday evening it became one to look a long way forward. The FIA president, Max Mosley, and the commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, stunned the teams that support the proposed GPWC breakaway F1 series when the FIA issued what some took to be proposals for a new Concorde Agreement to take effect in 2008. Others, however, believe that this is the road map for the sport's future and that when teams meet to discuss it in Monaco on 4 May they will be told that this is the way things will be. Take it or leave it: V8 2.4litre engines of 700-750bhp running standard electronic control units, manual transmissions and clutches, and standard-specification brake discs, pads and callipers. And that's just the start.
Throw in a package of aerodynamics, one-make tyres with a limit to the number that teams can use, and, seemingly, a desire to alienate the manufacturers while creating specific targets for cornering and straightline speeds, grip and braking performance, and you see why it is as welcome to some as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip.
It certainly succeeded in ruffling the feathers of the GPWC-aligned teams - Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Renault and Ford (Jaguar). Recent talks aimed at uniting the GPWC runners and Ecclestone's SLEC Holdings faithfuls - Williams, Sauber, Minardi, Jordan, Toyota and BAR - and to generate peace in the future, have fallen apart. The SLEC teams are angry because they allege that promises made in a Memorandum of Understanding by the big teams (among them financial help and low-cost engines) have not been honoured.
Yesterday F1-bound racer Vitantonio Liuzzi scored a maiden win in the Formula 3000 race here. This afternoon Button would like nothing better than to emulate his example. Given the backdrop to the whole weekend, nothing would be more apposite.
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