Friday, August 14, 2009

Button: Man or Monkey?

F1Fanatic ranks this year's drivers, ending with Jenson Button as number one. But the telling quote is the reader-supplied quote on Button:
It’s all well and good having a good car, but Barrichello has proved that its not just about the car. Button has driven superbly this season, and completely outdone Barrichello in the same machinery. --Claire MSJ
The thing is, I still don't rate Button very highly, for the same reason that I never rated Villeneuve highly -- his success only came when he was in a car which had a huge advantage over the rest of the field.

In Villeneuve's case, my description is usually Williams built a car that a monkey could win the world championship in. And in this case, there is a compelling argument that this is precisely what happened.

When Villeneuve's career was winding down, he found himself in the BAR with Button in the opposite car. While the car flattered neither driver, neither driver particularly covered themselves in glory while driving it.

The way Button's season has suddenly appeared to sag at the seams just as everyone was warming up the Button Becomes World Championship headlines gives lie to the suggestion that while he is certainly a competent driver, he is hardly exceptional.

The excuses have been convenient -- the Brawn can't deal with the cooler temperatures which prevailed at Silverstone or Nurburgring. The KERS cars had a technological edge in Hungary. But the fact is that those same KERS cars where overwhelmed at Monaco, where the Brawn put on a clinic of domination.

Brawn walks a tightrope as a team right now, balancing the need to strike the Championship now, while the fire is hot, and building a team which will compete reasonably in the future. Given their financial state, and the almost total lack of visible sponsorship support, one would think that the short-term thinking of maximizing performance potential today would be the best thing they could do; otherwise, their performance could drop off before a big-money sponsor is committed for next year.

But all that aside, if Button is going to promote himself from the ranks of the truly adequate, he's going to have to bring something special to the second half of the season.