Can Jensen Button Get the Upper Hand over Lewis Hamilton in 2011?
Whether Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button will be stronger this year does not matter, some might say, because the performance of their McLaren will be dreadful. Winter tests in Spain seem to have indicated as much, but we should not be fooled into believing that McLaren will not recover. Maybe not for the season opener in Melbourne, but they will be back sooner than their rivals might like. But back to the topic.
When Jensen Button entered Formula 1 in 2000 with the Williams team, many experts regarded him as highly talented and the star of the future. While he was in for some good drives in his first year at Williams as well as in the following years at Benetton (2001-2002, in 2002 renamed to Renault) and BAR (2003-2008, in 2007 renamed to Honda), he was never able to really shine, with the exception perhaps of his race victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006, when he made the most of the mixed weather conditions to secure his first race victory.
Jenson Button back in his Williams days in 2000
Things turned around for Jenson Button in 2009 with the ingenious double diffuser on his Brawn Formula 1 car. This technological feature gave the Brawn team a tremendous advantage in terms of downforce and the resulting overall speed over the rest of the pack for the first part of the season, enabling Jenson Button to win six out of the first seven grands prix.
After the 2009 season, which also saw Button winning the world championship, it was widely argued that his achievements were mostly due to his car's dominance. The fact that he was unable to secure another victory in the second half of the season did not help in this matter.
Fight between Hamilton and Button in Turkey 2010 with a
series of position changes. Are we going to see similar
battles between the two in 2011?
When at the end of the 2009 season Jenson Button decided to join Lewis Hamilton at McLaren many believed that Hamilton would wipe the floor with him. Jenson Button's start in the season made those people reconsider their assessment, though, for Button won two of the first four grands prix of the season. This early success for a short period of time even brought him the lead in the driver's championship. Later in the 2010 season, though, Lewis Hamilton had the upper hand in most of the races. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button ended the season with 240 and 214 points, forth and fifth in the standings, respectively.
The following year he was able to win the world championship and also in the 2010 season he had became a title contender by mid-season, regardless of the car's lack of performance in the early stages of the season.
As winter tests have shown, the new Pirelli tyres are definitely going to be different in this respect. One set of Pirelli tyres is expected to last for only 15 to 17 laps. Being easy on the tyres should increase the amount of laps which can be done in one stint.
Different car, same protagonists: Jenson Button (left) and
Lewis Hamilton testing the McLaren MP4-12C sports car
It is Jenson Button who is said to be the driver whose exact and compared to Lewis Hamiton - and to most other drivers for that matter - less aggressive driving style is beneficial regarding the tyres' degradation behaviour. This could make a significant difference and favour Jenson Button, who consequently might be able to cope with one less pit stop during the race.
Whether Jenson Button, who might lack the raw speed of Lewis Hamilton, at the end of the day can turn his advantage of being easy on the tyres into beating Lewis Hamiton in terms of strategy will primarily depend on how big a difference his driving style is going to make on the longevity of the tyres. The extent of this advantage might also vary according to the nature of the race track.
Also which two of the four different Pirelli compounds (hard, medium, soft and super-soft) are to be nominated as the prime and option tyres for each race may have an influence on the effect of being easy on the tyres. Pirelli already announced that the hard and soft compounds are to be used as the prime and option tyres for the first three grands prix of the season in Australia, Malaysia and China. Which compounds are being used afterwards will depend on the tyre's performance in the first three races.