Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2011

Button holds back Alonso and Vettel for Japanese Grand Prix win

2011 Japanese GP reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2011
Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2011

Jenson Button won his third race of the year but it wasn’t enough to keep Sebastian Vettel from securing the drivers championship title.

Vettel came home in third place having led the opening stages of the race. He and Fernando Alonso were bearing down on Button in the closing stages but the McLaren driver held on to win.

The race began with a wheel-to-wheel exchange between Vettel and Button as the latter made a better start from second on the grid.

He attempted to draw alongside Vettel but the Red Bull driver covered the inside line and as the track narrowed Button had to abandon the move. He was instantly on the radio to protest.

The stewards duly investigated but found nothing wrong with Vettel’s driving, which had not exceeded the limits of defensive driving that have been allowed before at the start of races.

Hamilton slips back

Lewis Hamilton took advantage of his team mate’s delay to take second place. Behind them Massa, Alonso and Webber continued in the order they’d qualified.

But within nine laps Hamilton was struggling for grip. He ran wide at Spoon curve and Button was instantly through into second place. Alonso hounded the McLaren as Hamilton dived for the pits.

Vettel pitted on the following lap, sacrificing a five-second margin over Button. The McLaren driver was on on the next lap, and returned to the circuit having taken a couple of second out of Vettel’s lead.

Alonso came it at the same time and returned to the pits ahead of Hamilton. The McLaren driver was now under pressure from the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa who pitted on lap 12. Webber joined them, the trio covered by just over a second-and-a-half by lap 16.

Six laps later Massa pulled alongside Hamilton on the outside as they headed towards the chicane. Hamilton kept moving left and squeezed the Ferrari, plucking a vane off its front wing.

“I can’t see anything out of my mirrors,” admitted Hamilton afterwards. Fortunately for him the stewards chose not to hand down a penalty after investigating the contact.

Button takes the lead

Button caught Vettel briefly at the beginning of the second stint, the gap briefly stabilised, but as the stint wore on Button began to make progress again.

On lap 20 Vettel suddenly appeared in the pits again. Button reeled off a speedy in-lap, came in on the next tour, and got to turn one before the Red Bull arrived on the scene.

Despite following his team mate into the pits Webber was able to leapfrog the battling Hamilton and Massa with his stop. Massa also jumped past Hamilton after pitting on lap 23.

The order at the front was now Button, Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Massa and Hamilton. Race control summoned the safety car onto the track while marshals salvaged he remains of Massa’s front wing plus some other debris at the Dunlop curve from contact between Webber and Michael Schumacher.

Button toyed with Vettel at the restart, inally making a break for it just before they reached the chicane. He kept his lead and Vettel now came under pressure from Alonso.

Vettel falls to third

Vettel was struggling to make his soft tyres last – six laps after the safety car came in he was back in to switch from soft to medium tyres, his team reminding him they had to last until the end of the race.

Button and Alonso’s rubber was lasting longer, and the Ferrari driver leapfrogged Vettel at his final pit stop, pushing the Red Bull down to third.

Vettel only needed tenth place to win the championship, but he went after Alonso as if the title depended on it, drawing alongside the Ferrari at turn one on the outside when using his DRS.

As the laps ticked down and the championship conclusion came into focus, his team urged caution, particularly after an agitated encounter with a lapped car who didn’t get out of the way quickly enough for him.

Alonso took advantage of Vettel’s delay to break out of DRS range and go after Button. He took a second out of the McLaren on lap 46 to pull within four seconds of the leader. By lap 50, the gap was a little over a second-and-a-half and the next time by Alonso had it down to a second.

Now Button responded, using a little performance he had kept in reserve to edge out out a few tenths of a second over his pursuers. At the chequered flag, Button crossed the line with Alonso and Vettel within two seconds of him.

Webber crossed the line in fourth in front of Hamilton, whose race had improved in the final stint as he put passes on Massa and Nico Rosberg to make progress.

Sixth for Schumacher

Schumacher briefly led the race – the first time for him since this race five years ago – and took advantage of Massa being delayed by Rosberg to come out of the pits in front of the Ferrari.

Rosberg salvaged a point for tenth after starting 23rd, and his team mate is now just three points behind him in the championship.

Between them were Massa, Sergio Perez and Vitaly Petrov. Perez drove a fine race despite being unwell to claim eighth place.

The Force India pair slipped out of the top ten towards the end of the race despite Sutil putting an excellent move on Kamui Kobayasho at 130R earlier on. The home driver could only manage 13th after a poor start to the race.

The sole retirement of the race was Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso, which shed a wheel following his pit stop on lap 12.

Button congratulates Vettel

Button paid tribute to the new world champion after his win, saying Vettel “totally deserved his world championship” – and adding that it made it all the sweeter to beat him on a true driver’s track like Suzuka.

Vettel did more than enough to clinch the championship and did so in emphatic fashion, putting a lock on his second title with four races to go.

But he admitted afterwards he wanted the race to keep going: “To be honest I wasn’t thinking about the championship at all.

“I lost a bit of the connection to Fernando and it was difficult to get back again. And when I saw we were closing in on Jenson I thought ‘this is going to be fun the last laps’ and I was as hungry as I ever have been. I’d love the race to continue a little it more.”

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119 comments on “Button holds back Alonso and Vettel for Japanese Grand Prix win”

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  1. Great win for Jenson. Finally winning a dry race for Mclaren. That should quiet any remaining doubters that say he can only win in changeable conditions.

    1. No doubt his critics will point to the fact that it will have been raining somewhere in the world and thus the Japanese race could easily be described as changeable conditions and that Button was once again lucky.

      1. I so hope this run of form continues; would be great to finally put paid to the infamous Lucky Button fallacy.

  2. Could someone post a youtube video of the last five laps…thanks

  3. it amazes me button’s form. He is like the good wine, better with time. He must be one of the happiest men in the world today, after vettel of course.
    Alonso is driving at his very best, and that makes me happy.
    Hamilton, we will have to wait a little longer to see him on the top of the rostrum. And be sure he will, soon. The mclaren is a rocket, and he is one of the best.

  4. I shouldn’t be surprised that essentially no one is commenting on the stonking race Fernando had. He drives the wheels off that Ferrari in a way only he can! I honestly was not expecting him to get a podium today. Very good job from him!

    1. A solid ride by Alonso once again with just an average ride. He sure is scoring some valuable points for Ferrari which are somewhat undeserving – they need to give him a better car.

  5. Perhaps the downside of DRS, when the hierarchy is a bit too well set as it is this year, is that when cars find themselves out of position on a track where it is difficult to pass, DRS makes it too easy for them to resume their usual place, such that DRS actually robs us of action.

    1. Disagree. At least DRS allows us to see th overtakes taking place on track. In the past a faster car would just tuck in behind until the pitstops and then use superior pace in clean air to put in a quick in lap to emerge from the pits ahead of the car that was holding him up.

  6. Jenson have suddenly picked up pace and for the last few races matching Hamilton and also beating him with some help from Hamilton’s mistakes.

    Jenson was happy all weekend and topped all sessions except qualifying which was little surprising to see Hamilton ahead of Button on the first lap of Q3. Hamilton didn’t look comfortable through out the weekend but surprisingly had great qualifying, without the last lap error he would have been on pole. But we know Hamilton has always been able to produce one great lap like in last years Japan qualifying too.

    Fact is Jenson was happy through out the weekend and was confident about race pace but Hamilton not so much and was struggling especially race pace.

    I think reason might be that for the last few months development of mp4-26 is now MORE towards Jenson’s liking that is why he is suddenly matching Hamilton’s pace and Hamilton is struggling. Maybe Mclaren think that even if they don’t have the quickest car but making it gentle on it’s tyres like the Ferrari, they still have a chance of beating RBR so if to take that route, the car should be more biased towards Jenson than Hamilton.

    Hamilton has to change his driving style little bit, be more gentle on these new Pirelli tyres at least for the first stint and i am sure he will win more races before the season end and convince Mclaren that his input is equally important and car should be developed MORE towards his liking too. I think few people at Mclaren think if not all that with these new Pirelli tyres, input of Jenson is more important and beneficial overall compare to Hamilton’s.

    Hamilton has to respond with great results off course that he too can fight till the end, preserve tyres like he did in China, Germany and also Spain fighting till the end with Vettel.

    “I think it’s me, how I dial the car in. I don’t know if I’ve dialled the car in as good as he [Button] has, maybe. Who knows? I’m clearly not driving as well as he is”

    Lewis talking to BBC.

    BTW Hamilton had slow puncture before he collided with Massa or because of the collision? Or was he carrying slow puncture from the beginning?

    1. I read in interview with Martin Whitmarsh where he talked about the changes they began making to the car when Jenson came on board. Where Lewis would simply drive the car he was given, Jenson requires a car more suited to the way he likes to drive.

      As a result they have engineered more flexibility into the car’s setup, allowing Jenson to find a balance that suits him during practice. This flexibility is also available to Lewis, so there is no preferential treatment going on. However it took time in 2010 before Jenson became happy with the car, and 2011 even more so.

      It would also appear that while providing feedback to find this balance, the engineers learn more about the way the car behaves. This I guess would naturally mean the engineers would then develop the car in Jenson’s direction.

      This doesn’t mean a problem for Lewis as his driving style is more flexible. It might also mean that Lewis would be getting a much better car to handle helping him out too.

      But unfortunately Lewis has now got to handle the psychological impact of a team mate that is influencing the car more than him, and now out performing him also.

      1. Great comment! Really incisive and thought-provoking insight into the situation. This bodes well for Button’s contribution to development over the winter toward the 2012 car. IMO, Lewis has 2 jobs ahead of him during the winter. First, he has to do significant work in the area of his mental approach. Secondly, given the situation you describe and the nature of the Pirelli tires, he is going to have to “do a Schumacher” and live at McLaren over the winter, so he can augment his ability to properly “dial in” the car by taking a postgraduate course from his engineers. Otherwise, he will not be able to exploit the enhanced flexibility of setup of the car and Button will outperform him again. Being a champion means consistently enlarging the envelope of your performance and potential.

      2. “But unfortunately Lewis has now got to handle the psychological impact of a team mate that is influencing the car more than him, and now out performing him also”

        But wasn’t Lewis in the same position when him and Alonso were in the team. Admittedly they were both in the team as new drivers, but I’m sure it was Alonso that the engineers would have listened to.

        And with regard Button it’s only since Monaco he’s really been outperforming Hamilton, so lets hold judgement and who’s the better of the two.

        1. @Clive, I’m not suggesting that one is better than the other. As you point out, since Monaco Jenson has been getting better results, and is it just a coincidence that since Monaco Lewis has been having more and more incidents.

          Also when Lewis was teamed with Alonso you will remember that towards the end of the season Alonso demanded that his setup information was hidden from Lewis, as he thought Lewis was taking advantage of his experience.

          1. @Ady, I don’t disagree with you on said points.
            With regard Lewis taking advantage of Alonso’s experience on car set up, wasn’t that the idea behind the pairing. A double world champion to mentor the Mclaren prodigy for a few years.
            I don’t think Alonso or Mclaren expected such a fast and competitive LH in the first season.

          2. @cunningplan I’m sure that was the intention at McLaren, but Alonso didn’t like that too much :)

            Maybe Lewis’ raw talent and ability to drive almost anything he’s given might be a hindrance to car development. Perhaps that was the idea behind Jenson’s original signing (use Jenson to develop a car for Lewis to win the WC).

  7. Cant say I`am over excited by a for gone conclusion, but congratulations where there due. He`s a toast to the head of materials an aero for a stunning SMA Alloy. The best place to hide wood is in the woods.

  8. How come Lewis’s puncture was not mentioned in the article? It was clear thats why he dramatically lost his pace at lap 9 plus all the places and not simply because he wore out his tyres.

    With out the puncture i am sure he would have made it to the podium.

    Just more bad luck for him.

  9. @keithcollantine don’t forget Hamilton didn’t simply ‘run out of grip’ during the 1st stint, he had a slow puncture.

  10. I have to say that was some really interesting post-race soundbytes. Between Vettel sounding frankly almost bored over the radio having won his second championship and then the dialogue between drivers in the waiting room before the podium, I was really bemused. I literally laughed out loud at Alonso’s “we better get a move on.”

    1. alonso didn’t say that. the ‘hats and watches’ guy did.

  11. Great result for the race and a great result for the championship. Button thoroughly deserved that victory, he drove very well. Vettel did a good job of making the best out of a bad situation with the tyres and Alonso similarly, getting on with it with tyres that do not suit their car.

    It was good to see Schumacher back on form. This was a real test for him, to see if he could continue recent success despite his crash in Singapore.Rosberg needs to up his game and quick.

    Great result for Perez also.

  12. Good race, another professional job from Jenson Button despite the fact that he knew Vettel was always going to get that one point he needed to become champion. As for our new double world champion he does look pretty flawless at the moment. The grands prix felt to me like it was the season finale, possibly because it was Suzuka and for years was the finale, but the next four races are all going to be face saving ‘points for the team’ affairs. As a fan, its never nice to see the championship end so early, but for that you cannot blame Vettel. The man has been by far and wide the best driver this season, despite the fact the Red Bull is such a good machine, the German has made so few mistakes and has devastated the opposition.
    If anybody is to blame, it is the likes of McLaren and especially Ferrari who have fallen far short of the bar. For all of Fernando Alonso’s skill behind the wheel, the Ferrari this year was a massive disappointment despite being so fast pre-season.
    As for Hamilton, things do not seem to be improving. The incident on Saturday involving Webber and Schumacher highlighted perfectly just how at sea the 2008 world champion is. And yet again, as everybody points fingers at Lewis and the media chews over the latest controversy, Jenson Button cruises to yet another great result. No wonder McLaren were so hasty to sign him up to such a lucrative contract!

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