Ferraris in place to punish Button

Schumacher's 62nd pole gives BAR-Honda a tough task in their attempt to rescue a bad week
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's been a bad week or two for fairy stories, as David Richards will tell you. First there was the sudden drama (and prolonged fallout) of his protégé Jenson Button's intended desertion of BAR-Honda. Then, yesterday, there was the destruction of an all-BAR dream front row by the inevitable red tide of Ferrari.

When Button set the fastest practice lap yesterday morning, and then rose to the top of the timesheets in the closing stages of qualifying, it seemed the perfect riposte to a week in which he has, in some eyes, gone from being the public's darling to the bad boy who turned his back on Richards, the man who rescued his career at the end of 2002 by signing him when Renault dropped him in favour of Fernando Alonso. Together they had pushed the team to the fore last year, and this season they have been the saving grace amid Ferrari's dominance.

Button's lap of 1min 19.7sec stole pole position from Alonso, who had lapped his Renault in 1min 19.996sec. But no sooner had Button risen to the top than his team-mate, Takuma Sato, the man who will be staying at BAR-Honda, pushed him down a place with a lap of 1min 19.693sec. "I'm slightly disappointed," Button admitted. "I didn't get enough heat in the tyres on the out lap and that compromised my quick lap."

Sato had no such problem. "I'm really pleased," he said. "We expected to be strong here after Germany and this has proved to be the case. I think the weather has taken everyone by surprise and the last few runners this afternoon - including myself - were lucky that the rain held off until after the session."

It's been a tough week for everyone at BAR, not just Button and Richards with their understandable froideur, but the workforce who, like many others, were completely bewildered by Button's decision to defect to BMW-Williams for 2005. He was advised by his management not even to accept the perplexed Richards' phone calls while he was on holiday in Sardinia following his brilliant drive to second place in the recent German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Even though they then met face-to-face last Sunday, things were still clearly strained between them when they arrived in Hungary.

Button faced his crew on Thursday and there was peace of a sort, and probably the most sensible comment on the whole affair came from the chief mechanic, Alastair Gibson, who spoke of the need for everyone to maintain their professionalism regardless of their personal feelings in their mutual quests for third - possibly even second - places in both the drivers' and constructors' world championships. Nevertheless, there were a lot of smiles in the camp when Sato edged ahead.

"A really great team effort; I am especially pleased to see such a consistently strong performance from both cars," Richards said.

But then along came the Ferraris. Michael Schumacher obviously regained his taste for starting from pole position after recently securing his 61st at Hockenheim, and the champion did it again at the Hungaroring.

It is the only track that is as bad as Monte Carlo as far as overtaking is concerned, so pole is crucial. The changing weather conditions - it got pretty cool at one stage but the forecast rain held off until the start of the F3000 race - and the generally slippery and bumpy nature of the circuit made life difficult for everyone, but the champion's lap of 1min 19.146sec was enough to push Button off the front row. Then it all depended on what Rubens Barrichello could do. The Brazilian had dominated prequalifying with a stunning 1min 18.436sec, and when he edged below Schumacher's time in the first sector things looked promising for him, but the remaining two sectors were slower and he had to settle for second fastest with 1min 19.323sec, which swept the remaining BAR-Honda on to the second row.

"That was a good lap," said Schumacher nonchalantly, "though as a racing driver you always feel you could do better. Rubens did a fantastic prequalifying lap, but I was not too worried as we had both been very close in the morning. I'm not so surprised at the grid; we expected BAR and Renault to be competitive, even if I am surprised that McLaren is a bit further back, but maybe they have a different strategy."

With the Ferraris just where they want to be, the outcome of the race is as predictable as a record sixth consecutive constructors' title for the reds. The real action will probably centre around the fight between BAR, the BMW-Williamses and the Renaults, and maybe Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes.

One thing that will not be resolved is the fight for Button's services. That particular tussle is only just beginning as it heads for the Contract Recognition Board, and the outcome is anyone's guess right now.