Red alert as Vettel looks to overtake
German pledges all-out attack but Button is starting to 'tighten up like Stuart Pearce taking a penalty'
Sunday 11 October 2009
If Jenson Button worries that he might be in the situation Lewis Hamilton faced in 2007, when his points lead was eroded in the final two races and Kimi Raikkonen snatched away the title at the 11th hour, he does a good job of hiding his concerns. And since all he needs is one third place to secure the crown, the odds favour him.
The honours have been split reasonably evenly between 29-year-old Englishman Button and his 37-year-old Brazilian team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, and when you have the same equipment, they are likely to stay that way. In Japan last week they finished seventh and eighth on a circuit that was less well-suited than anticipated to their cars, and even if Barrichello wins on his home ground, Button should not be too far behind.
The dangerman, however, is Sebastian Vettel, whose domination of the Japanese race for Red Bull catapulted him back into title contention.
All season, Brawn and Red Bull have fought an up-and-down battle, some circuits suiting one team more than the other. But the manner in which the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull set the pace at Suzuka has given the Milton Keynes-based team fresh hope that Vettel might be able to "do a Raikkonen". Team principal Christian Horner has pledged that attack is the only policy, and believes that Vettel's head will prove stronger than either Button's or Barrichello's.
"Both of our guys are very strong," he said, referring also to Mark Webber who, though he is no longer in contention, could still significantly influence the title outcome if he scores well in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. "They are great competitors. Very hungry to win. And I think they are mentally stronger. To me, Jenson's tightened up, like Stuart Pearce taking a penalty. He is the most vulnerable.
"I've known him since he was 11. He won lots of races in karts, but not many championships. He's got everything to lose, and that can't not play on his mind.
"At this level all of these guys are phenomenally talented, so it comes down to mental strength. It's like golfers. They can all hit their strokes, so it's all down to what they do with the fine points.
"If it comes down to a street fight, my money would be on our two boys. Both are very strong in the head and they've both pulled off some really good moves this year."
Vettel is not the type to give up, and is quite prepared to give his all, and to hell with the consequences.
"Kimi came from further back two years ago, but we have only one eye on the championship," said Horner in Japan. "Our main focus is on trying to win the races, then the pressure is on Brawn. There is for sure a chance. We are now 16 points away and we were 25 – so there is a better chance.
"We have got to go and attack them and win the race – to try and take the championship into the final race in Abu Dhabi."
Perhaps crucially, Brawn ran their final update on their car in Singapore, whereas Red Bull have pledged to keep developing theirs.
"We have kept our heads down and kept pushing, and we will have some new components in the next two events," Horner said, and he firmly believes that Vettel can make best use of what they give him. "I think Japan was a very impressive drive. It was absolutely faultless and he was on it from start to finish."
Vettel was almost overcome with emotion after the fourth win of his burgeoning career. "To be honest I came into the last lap and I was regretting a bit that it was over," he said. "I was enjoying the first sector for the last time. Fantastic. This circuit is amazing. If you get 53 laps in a row you appreciate it even more. It is made by God's hands, I would say. It is fantastic, especially when you have a car that works so well in all the high-speed corners, so fantastic."
Brazil's Interlagos has a similar make-up, raising his hopes further. "I am very, very happy," Vettel added. "Good points [in Japan] for the championship. I think it looks a bit better now, so a shame only two races to go. But that's life. We are here to fight, so let's see. Anything is still possible as you can see. It can change quickly. As I've said many times already, I will fight until the end, until the last breath."
A defensive leader with a big points advantage; a national hero racing on his home ground; and a hungry outsider on a winning streak: the odds for the Brazilian Grand Prix are very nicely stacked.
What does button have to do?
There are plenty of permutations but Jenson Button is clearly in the pound seats with two races left, provided his Brawn remains reliable. Button has 85 points to team-mate Rubens Barrichello's 71, with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel on 69. There are 20 points up for grabs in the final two races (the Brazilian GP is next weekend, and the final race is in Abu Dhabi on 1 November). The scoring system awards points to the first eight finishers, 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 respectively from first to eighth. If Barrichello or Vettel wins in Brazil, third place for Button would be sufficient. Barrichello or Vettel would move to 81 or 79 points, but Button would have 91. That would put him out of Vettel's reach. While Barrichello might win in Abu Dhabi and draw even if his team-mate failed to score, leaving each on 91, Button would take the title by virtue of six wins to Barrichello's four.
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