Button's rapid start to life in the fastest lane

Coulthard's disqualification in Brazil hands impressive young Briton first championship points
Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Coulthard's unlucky break proved to be Jenson Button's historical boost yesterday after the Scots' McLaren was disqualified from second place behind Michael Schumacher in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Post-race scrutineering revealed that Coulthard's front wing breached technical regulations.

Button had driven a storming race to bring his Williams-BMW in at seventh place, not far behind his more experienced team-mate, Ralf Schumacher. But he had been disappointed not to score a world championship point.

"My first lap wasn't anything special," he admitted after dropping from a sensational ninth place on the grid to 13th at the end of the opening lap. "In fact my start was probably the worst I've ever made! But it was good to finish seventh though sixth would have been a whole lot better if I'd scored my first point."

Coulthard's disqualification granted him his wish as he was elevated to sixth place and he learned of his good fortune just before flying back to England. "It's fantastic news," he said. "But I'm not getting too excited."

Ron Dennis, the McLaren chief, has already indicated his intention to appeal. As things stand, albeit perhaps only temporarily, Button has succeeded the Mexican driver, Ricardo Rodriguez as the youngest man ever to score a world championship point. Rodriguez was 20 and four months old when he finished fourth in the 1962 Belgian Grand Prix; Button was 20 and two months old yesterday.

By any standard his graduation to Formula One has been remarkable though it is clear that the expectations of others have never been as great as the expectations he has of himself. After the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, where he had made an excellent debut and was running sixth before suffering engine failure, he had proved a point. But his performance in last weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix left no doubt that he has a strong future ahead if he remains on his current trajectory.

Patrick Head, the Williams-BMW technical director, is not a man enamoured of hype nor is he much given to cosseting drivers. At Williams you either sink or swim and nobody has time to teach you any strokes you do not already know. Yet Button has thrived in the deep end and thus far avoided attack by the sharks which infest Formula One's waters. In his own understated way, Head, the veteran of countless campaigns and the recipient of a million racing driver's excuses, has been impressed.

"One always wants to keep one's feet on the ground but it's difficult not to praise Jenson too much," he said after his young charge had finished seventh and pulled off one of the passing moves of the race by confidently displacing the experienced but tiring Dutch racer Jos Verstappen. "In two practice sessions now he has had mechanical problems. He is on a circuit that is new to him and which is pretty tricky yet despite his limited practice he could not have done a better job in qualifying."

Button had hoped for the seventh row in Melbourne but was frustrated by mechanical difficulties. In Brazil he exuded confidence not only in qualifying ninth, ahead of the highly rated Ralf Schumacher, but impressed with a calm and confident manner in which he called for the right technical changes to make his Williams-BMW quicker. In Sunday's race he was consistently faster than his team-mate in the first half and set a quicker lap overall.

"He did a very good job passing Verstappen," Head reflected. "It came just as Coulthard was coming up to lap them and he used the situation well. Verstappen perhaps lost concentration for a moment and ran wide but Jenson was confident enough to pounce up the inside, and to put himself there. Verstappen could have driven into him or he could have given way. He gave way. It was very well done by Jenson. He did excellently."

Earlier this season Button had impressed by running close to Ralph Schumacher during pre-season testing, but Head had deflated the hype by suggesting that he yet to see the signs that the German was agitated by his new team-mate's pace. But on Saturday afternoon, Schumacher was livid when he found himself upstaged by the new kid and was then unable to redress the situation. "It's a pleasure to have him in the team," Head concluded. It will not be long before Jenson Button becomes an increasingly crucial asset as well.

BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX*: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 31min 35.271sec; 2 G Fisichella (It) Benetton +39.9sec; 3 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan +42.3; 4 J Trulli (It) Jordan +72.8; 5 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams +1 lap; 6 J Button (GB) Williams +1 lap; 7 J Verstappen (Neth) Arrows +1 lap; 8 P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows +1 lap; 9 R Zonta (Bra) BAR +2 laps; 10 G Mazzacane (Arg) Minardi +2 laps. Disqualified: D Coulthard (GB) McLaren. Standings drivers' world championship (after two races): 1 M Schumacher 20 points; 2 Fisichella 8; =3 R Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari and R Schumacher 6; 5 Frentzen 4; 6 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR and Trulli (It) 3; 8 R Zonta and Button 1. Constructors' championship: 1 Ferrari 26 points; 2 Benetton 8; =3 Jordan and Williams 7; 5 BAR 4.

(Revised following the disqualification of David Coulthard's McLaren)