• Button sags to 14th on grid but Lewis Hamiton claims fourth
• Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on front row
The wretched Silverstone form of the world champion, Jenson Button, continued here today and he will start the British grand prix in 14th position on the grid in a car he described as “undriveable”.
His McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton also failed to make the front row and he will start the race in fourth place, alongside Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari but behind the rampant Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel, who will be in pole position, and Mark Webber.
It was the fifth time in the 10 races this season that the Red Bulls had locked out the front row with a one-two performance in qualifying, although their appearance in a press conference afterwards confirmed that theirs is a far from united team.
If Red Bull repeat their success here of last year, when they were first and second, it will be a tribute more to the brilliance of their car than any rapport between the two drivers.
Webber appeared upset that the one surviving new front wing that Red Bull had brought to Silverstone had been given to Vettel. When asked about this he looked surly and replied: “I think the team is happy with the result today.”
Vettel appeared surprised that the news of the wing had become public. “I think there has been a leakage,” he said. But he denied favouritism.
“I think in the end if you look back to the qualifying session it was extremely tight,” he said. “In Q1 we were pretty much the same, in Q2 I was struggling and in Q3 I was ahead. I don’t think it is a black and white answer on the wing.”
Vettel, who will be on pole for the fifth time this year, was given Webber’s new wing after his own had been broken in the final practice session. Webber seemed unhappy with second place on the grid when he said: “I would rather be third on the grid, probably. If Fernando [Alonso] wants to change we will see if we can.”
All season the clear impression has been that Red Bull want Vettel, not Webber, to win this championship and that could not have been plainer than it was here today.Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, added last night: “It came to me to make a difficult decision as to which car the [new front wing] went on. A situation like that is not ideal and doesn’t happen very often. It went to Sebastian based on championship position and the drivers’ feedback from yesterday.”
But the majority of another vast crowd was less interested in the internecine warfare at Red Bull than the failure of McLaren and their British drivers.
The sense of anti-climax over Button’s disastrous showing was profound and bordered on the mourning; it evoked the sense of despondency that followed England’s desperately disappointing performance in the World Cup.
Over the first half of the season the Red Bulls have been the fastest cars. But in the past three races McLaren had eaten into their advantage and proved they were capable of beating them.
Button has never finished on the podium at his home grand prix in 10 attempts and despite his optimistic noises in the past few days he never looked likely to make an impact here.
McLaren have been on the back foot for the past couple of days and late last night they abandoned the exhaust-blown diffuser which they hoped would help them bridge the gap between themselves and Red Bull.
After both McLaren cars had struggled badly in yesterday’s practice sessions, the team’s mechanics worked until 3am this morning to return the car to what was basically its previous specification.
In that context, and that of Button’s failure, it was a triumph by Hamilton to bring his car home fourth, although he will surely struggle to make ground on the Red Bulls tomorrow.
His best chance will come if the Red Bulls crash again, not an unlikely scenario judging by Webber’s sullen expression today when he looked a little like one of his own dogs.
Hamilton said afterwards: “Fourth is … I’m so happy with it, you can’t believe it. I’m so proud of my team because we pushed so hard all year, but in the last couple of days they pushed longer and harder than ever to get this update package, which is an improvement, but we just were unable to work it.
“And unfortunately we had to take it off last night. We knew we were a long way off. The Red Bull is a second and a bit ahead and [we] have three teams with the blown diffuser who were ahead of us, and it was really about getting the best thing possible.
“I have to say for me this is the best lap I’ve ever had. And I think it’s down to all the fans we have here. The support you have around this track is like nowhere else. British fans are the best by far.”
As a clearly dispirited Button clambered from his car after Q2, he said: “This morning the car felt really good. I personally think there’s something wrong, the car was undriveable.
“That’s it really. I don’t know if I’ve lost rear downforce since this morning, but it’s pretty undriveable. This weekend has been tricky, but that wasn’t normal.” Asked if he was still aiming for a podium finish, he replied: “I’d have to say yes. I want to do it for the fans. But it’s going to be difficult.”
Later today Button denied that he had a Silverstone jinx. “No, it’s not that. I am very disappointed. I wanted to have a good day in front of a home crowd. I love driving round here so it’s so frustrating to be so far back.
“I had very low rear grip. I don’t know where it went. I had to take front end out of the car to balance it. It’s very sad. I’m disappointed for myself.”