Will Gray

Tech Talk: How Button did it

Will Gray

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It's been said already once this year but, once again, F1
produced one of its greatest ever races last weekend - so how and when did
Jenson Button make the crucial moves that made the victory his?

A look at the FIA's official race lap chart
shows just how complicated last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix turned out to be,
with five safety car periods, one red flag, several big collisions and a large
number of pit stops and penalties.

In an incredibly eventful race, Button used seven
different sets of tyres, starting on a new set of wets and finishing on a used
set of super softs, which he ran on for 19 laps at the end of the race. He also
had to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding under the safety car and
suffered not one but two punctures - one after colliding with his team-mate
Lewis Hamilton and one after a clash with Fernando Alonso, an incident that put
him dead last with 30 laps to go.

Having put on too much downforce for qualifying, Button
was only able to manage seventh on the grid - but the team had taken the
decision with one eye on the rain expected for Sunday and team boss Martin
Whitmarsh promised: "Wet or dry, we know that Lewis and Jenson are both
fantastic racers - and brilliant overtakers - and we therefore expect them to
challenge competitively tomorrow."

After the safety car pulled in to start the race there
was not much position movement for Button in the early laps, but there was one
major drama when he and Hamilton collided. That incident forced him to make his
first stop and he used the opportunity to take a gamble on intermediates as the
safety car came out again.

The stop dropped him to 12th and in his haste
to catch up the train under the safety car he went too fast, so just five laps
later, with the race back under green, he was back in the pits again to serve
his drive-through penalty, dropping him further down to 15th place.

The move to intermediates looked a good call at that
time, and when the safety car came in again Button went from 15th to
eighth through a combination of overtaking and other drivers' pit stops. Of the
top 10 runners at that point, however, only Alonso and the two Mercedes drivers
followed Button's earlier gamble for intermediates - but almost immediately
they were all back in again for wets as the rain began streaming down once
more. Button was forced in to change to wets and was back down to 10th
when the race was stopped.

Several hours later, after the re-start, Button was once
again one of the earliest to switch to intermediates, on lap 35, but he had to
come in for another set of new inters just two laps later after suffering his
second puncture in the clash with Alonso.

At that point, with plenty of exhausting racing already
complete, Button's hopes of victory looked only just a little more alive than
those of Hamilton's, who was busy showing pop star Rhianna around the McLaren

He was dead last, one minute and 42 seconds behind race
leader Vettel, with just less than half the race still to run.

The safety car that came out because of his incident with
Alonso, however, was the catalyst for his dramatic comeback. It allowed him to
close the gap right down to just 12 seconds when the racing began again and he
quickly picked off the slower cars at the back of the field, with six passing
moves in five laps, a few gains through other drivers' stops and a double pass
on Pastor Maldonado and Jaimie Alguersuari.

Just nine laps after he was in last place, he was in
tenth - although his fight through the field had lost him time and he was now
27 seconds behind Vettel.

At that point, Webber, Barrichello and Buemi took a
gamble on dry tyres and Button made the move one lap later. Others came in a
lap later still, but it was another two laps before Vettel took the same call -
and by the time the leader's dry tyres had settled in to race pace, Button was
in fourth and had closed the gap to 15 seconds.

On a drying track with wet patches off-line the limits
are harder to find - because it's easier to overstep them - and Button was in
the groove. He had more confidence in his car, and was lapping almost two
seconds per lap faster than Vettel. He could potentially have caught up on his
own, but a helping hand came when the safety car came out again to allow the
clear up of Nick Heidfeld's crash, bunching the field up together yet again.

When the racing began again, with just 10 laps to go,
Button began hounding the battling pair of Schumacher and Webber and once past
them he put in two laps that were around 1.5 seconds per lap faster than
Vettel, with the Red Bull driver apparently very late to catch on to what was

When Vettel realised he had to push, he was far more
ragged than Button, who may also have been benefitting a little from that extra
downforce on some of the more slippery sections.

Vettel sped up but was still 0.3 seconds per lap slower
than Button - and when he pushed too hard on the final lap, Button was there to
take the spoils.

Ultimately, Button's fightback from last to first was
part down to luck and part to judgement - as is often the case with wet races.
The two safety car periods certainly closed the field up for him, but the team's
good calls on early tyre changes, which turned out to be right, and Button's
ability to push the car more to its limits than his rival is what steered him
to victory.

And it is indeed hard to disagree that it was one of the
greatest drives ever seen...

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