Button feels the heat in Singapore as Lewis snatches pole.
Jenson Button faces his toughest test yet as championship leader when he lines up for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix in twelfth place after what he described as a “disastrous” qualifying hour.
The Brawn driver, who has seen his championship lead over teammate Rubens Barrichello reduced to just fourteen points over the past few races, has been struggling with the handling of his car all weekend – and perhaps his emotions too if a radio communication to his team bemoaning his setup at the end of final practice was anything to go by.
Unhappy with the way his BGP001 was managing its Bridgestone tyres, the best Button could muster was twelfth quickest, well off the pace of pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, the Red Bull drivers, and most importantly his teammate Rubens Barrichello.
“It was a frustrating qualifying session for us today,” he said. “The car felt pretty good in Q1 and I was the second quickest which was positive. We had a bit of understeer so we made some changes for Q2 but unfortunately it made the car very difficult under braking and I locked the front left tyre up into turn seven which lost me a lot of time.
“Then with a flat-spotted front tyre, it’s impossible to make the time up around here so that was my qualifying over. We’ll make the best of it tomorrow of course but starting from twelfth on the grid is going to make it a tough race.”
Button’s only saving grace was that Barrichello had to change his gearbox before qualifying which meant a five place penalty on top of the Brazilian’s final position.
Barrichello just scraped into the final Q3 shoot-out giving himself a chance to limit the damage – which he did, ironically, by crashing his car on his final flying lap. That brought out the red flags, and with just twenty seconds on the clock remaining the times of the ten drivers taking part at that point, including Barrichello in fifth place, stood as the classification.
“I had a problem with the car after Q2 when I hit the kerb too hard and probably damaged the floor as the car wasn’t feeling quite right at the end of the session,” explained the Brazilian.
“I was really going for it on my final run in Q3 and unfortunately the car bottomed out and I lost control and ended up bouncing off the wall. It’s a shame but the car should be ok and we can look forward to the race tomorrow.”
There will be a sense of opportunity missed on both sides of the Brawn garage. After being beaten by his teamamte in the last few races, Barrichello’s grid penalty presented Button with the chance to get the upperhand, while Barrichello will be ruing his gearbox change.
Momentum is still firmly on Barrichello’s side though as he goes into the final four races of the season. His penalty aside, he is still looking the quicker of the two Brawn drivers and with nothing to lose.
Button on the otherhand now faces an attack on both wings with Red Bull establishing themselves as major players in Singapore.
Sebastian Vettel set the fastest sector one time of the session before the red flags were brought out and that suggests he has the pace to overhaul Hamilton on Sunday.
Should Button fail to score points, that would let Vettel right back into the championship hunt.
Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton offered this wisdom to the championship leader: “You can t forget that he won six races. He has dominated for quite a lot of the season and Brawn have dominated for quite a lot of the season.”
“It is intense. Everyone is pushing, everyone is making steps forward, so the gap that they used to have is clearly much greater a while ago, but everyone s closing the gap. The times between all us drivers, us teams, are getting closer and closer.”
“I don t know the answer as to what s going on. I didn t see what happened to them today, but I know that they are pushing as hard as they can and without a doubt, they clearly won the last race, so it s not like that they don t have the pace and they are losing it. It s just one of those racing experiences.”
***Lewis Hamilton starts on pole position for the third race in a row ahead of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ driver Nico Rosberg.
Mark Webber was fourth ahead of Fernando Alonso in fifth place while Rubens Barrichello drops to tenth place with his penalty.
Ferrari continued to struggle at the Marina Bay circuit with Kimi Raikkonen the best placed Maranello driver in thirteenth, while Giancarlo Fisichella continued to struggle with the handling of the F60 and could only manage eighteenth place.
Raikkonen said: “Unfortunately, today we were just not quick enough to get into Q3 and there was not much we could do about it. It s logical that, as other cars improve, race after race, we pay a higher price for our decision to stop developing the F60.”
“Tomorrow, we can expect a tough race as it is very difficult to overtake here, so getting into the points will be very difficult. It s true that anything can happen on a track like this and we will have to do our best to make the most of every opportunity, maybe getting some help through a good start as we have usually managed in the last few races.
“As for the tyres, I think that tomorrow, there could be a problem with wear on the softer tyre, even if the situation could improve during the race.â€