Button’s thrilling victory in Montreal last year is a distant memory in what is turning into a nightmare Formula One season for McLaren
McLaren travel to Montreal next week with rich memories to sustain them. It was there, last year, that Jenson Button produced one of the most thrilling victories in Formula One.
He came from last position to first in a race extended over four hours because of the weather, and did so on one of the most challenging of circuits, with high speeds into narrow chicanes, and close walls ready to punish any driver who is less than precise.
But the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, an artificial island towards the far bank of the St Lawrence River, does not seem the most reliable place in which to invest one’s hopes. And Button is beginning to resemble some creature from Russian fiction, one with a beautiful past but an uncertain future.
After impressing everyone last season, when he out-performed Lewis Hamilton, and starting the current campaign with a win in Melbourne, his season has fallen away sharply. His results this year have been: 1, 14, 2, retired, 9, retired. Lewis Hamilton has been more solid (3, 3, 3, 8, 8, 5). But again there has been a falling away. And McLaren, who started the season not only with the best looking car but also the fastest, are still scratching their heads over tyres and pitstops and wondering how they are going to impose themselves once more. In a ridiculously unpredictable season, it is those who can piece together some consistency who will emerge triumphant.
In Monaco Red Bull became the first team to record two victories this year and by doing so they extended their lead at top of the constructors’ championship to 38 points. Reports that their hegemony might have been broken, after they built their car around the now outlawed exhaust-related downforce in 2010 and 2011, may have been premature.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso has been the most consistent driver of all (results: 5, 1, 9, 7, 2, 3) and that in a car that was branded a no-hoper at the start of the season. He has gone clear at the top of the table, albeit by three points, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, with Hamilton fourth, 13 points behind Alonso.
Hamilton said of the Spaniard: “He is the dark horse and he’s driving for the dark horse. I wouldn’t expect anything less. He is a two-time world champion and probably the best driver here.” Hamilton also has Nico Rosberg just four points behind. “Where the hell has Rosberg come from? He didn’t score at the first two races. I have scored at every race.”
Red Bull’s main concern might be keeping their team together, with both Vettel and Webber linked with Ferrari, who are expected to unload the underperforming Felipe Massa at the end of the season, even though the Brazilian looked quick in Monaco. It has been suggested that Webber, who has a year by year contract with Red Bull, could join Ferrari next year before making way for Vettel in 2014.
The prospect of Vettel and Alonso driving alongside each other is a mouth-watering one. But it will not happen just yet. Vettel is contracted to Red Bull until the end of 2014 and could very well remain there for the rest of his active life.
Nor do Red Bull expect Webber to depart. “Mark is driving really well and he is in great shape. You can see that he is at the top of his game,” said their team principal, Christian Horner. “Why would he want to leave? The team are doing well and Mark knows the team very well. We are only at race six and a lot depends on his motivation and desire going forward. He is doing a great job and we are really happy with him.”
Before Button goes to Canada he will drive an F1 car in Dublin and complete yet another triathlon. He said: “I feel jolly about going to Canada. I will give a swim in the rowing lake a go. I have great memories of Monaco but even greater memories of Canada in 2011 so we have to stay confident and positive that we can come out of these past three races and get some good points.
“There are things we think will help us in Canada, but we don’t know. We have to be positive. We made a mistake [in Monaco] on the set up from FP3 to qualifying that cost us positions.” McLaren have made mistakes in all six races so far. It is something they must come to terms with now that the season is almost a third over.