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Jenson Button on pole in Oz

Here we go again.

Jensen Button
Jenson Button (left) and Rubens Barrichello of Brawn

With Formula One changed almost out of recognition, a row broke out yesterday at Albert Park, where the Australian Grand Prix is kicking off the new season tomorrow.

Brawn (formerly Honda), Williams and Toyota occupied six of the top seven places in practice, allegedly because they are running double diffusers of contested legality which exploit a grey area in the rules.

The Brawn team now occupy both pole and second on the grid for the Sunday’s race. Button is firm favourite to take the chequered flag in the Grand Prix.

Last year’s champ, Lewis Hamilton hardly got a look in after his gear box had to be replaced and finished 18th on the grid. The other McLaren is 12th.

So, if Hamilton does poorly, we may yet have a British winner in Jenson Button, albeit in a German car.

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Lewis Hamilton pole position in US GP

Lewis Hamilton has snatched pole position for the second week in succession.

Fernando Alonso at first dominated the United States Grand Prix practice and qualifying sessions until Hamilton made his late move with awesome ease.


Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren

Hamilton produced two flying laps at the death to take front spot on the grid for this afternoon’s race.

“I knew Fernando would go for it on his last lap and I’m surprised he didn’t go quicker,” said the young Hertfordshire driver after finishing 0.2sec ahead of the Spaniard.

“I really thought Fernando would get pole here. He has been quicker all weekend. My last two laps were spot-on, though — perfect. Getting my second pole was even better than last week and it’s great to see so many British flags.”

Alonso replied, “Being on top in practice makes me confident for the race. I have the pace. I still think I’m in a strong position.”

There was some confusion after Hamilton changed his Mercedes engine, but he will not suffer a grid penalty as it was fitted before final practice.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa will start third alongside team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

David Coulthard is in 11th spot for Red Bull, two places ahead of Honda’s Jenson Button.

This circuit is not Alonso’s favourite track. The best he has come here is 5th. Nevertheless, his pace in practice suggests he will be hard to beat this time.

If anyone can do it, though, you’d back Lewis Hamilton, who is beginning to take on the same mantle of near-invincibilty once held by Ayton Senna — perhaps the greatest of them all.

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Honda’s Woes

I don’t know who “Helios” is (which is the idea, I think) but he appears to be a member of the Honda team. Certainly, his article for Pitpass today is written from an insider’s viewpoint. And it makes pretty depressing reading, especially if you were hanging on to the last shreds of hope that Jenson Button might yet get the chance of a few decent results this year.

Hondas

The way Helios tells it, Honda’s problems stem from a lack of leadership and too much interference from board room level. It is an all-too-familiar scenario to me, having worked for a few companies that suffered from the same disease. Racing teams need to be small, closely-knit groups of people utterly dedicated to their task and not subject to the whims and theories of people who know nothing of F1.

Saddest of all was to hear of Button’s attempts to re-inspire the team. He is trying, apparently, but his body language shows that he does not have much hope for success this year. It reminds me too painfully of Bernie Ecclestone’s assessment of Jenson last year.

Can you see Michael Schumacher in such a situation? I am no fan of Michael but I know that he would have insisted on the team being allowed to work the way he required and he would have brought about a unity of thought and ambition that would have seen them conquer their problems by now. It seems that Bernie was right and Jenson lacks the ruthlessness and singlemindedness to create an efficient winning team such as the German did at Ferrari. As does Rubens Barrichello, it seems.

Helios is in agreement with all the other Honda-watchers in citing Nick Fry as the source of their weakness. And one cannot argue with the fact that the buck stops at the desk of the team manager – he is the only one with the power to make changes in the team in the quest for greater efficiency. So far, that does not seem to be happening.

It’s a picture of a team in disarray, unable to explain the deficiencies of the car this season, embarrassed by the greater success of their tiny sister team, Super Aguri, and unhappy with the management. I have to say that, on this evidence, Button can forget any chance of winning a race this year and he will find it hard even to score points.

So much for my hopes of a championship for him this year.

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Frying Tonight in the Honda Camp

I understand completely why so many have given up hope of Jenson Button ever fulfilling the promise he showed when he first arrived in F1. Year after year he has carried English hopes into battle, only to disappoint through no fault of his own. It is no wonder that we despair of him ever getting the right drive at the right time.

And I have tried so hard to be loyal, even sticking my neck out and predicting a championship for him this year. Who could have guessed that Honda were about to confuse themselves utterly with a car that just does not do what it’s supposed to? Once again it looks as if I will have to shelve my hopes until next year.

Honda

Except that now there is a new hope from England, the amazing Lewis Hamilton who has done everything right so far, even picking the right team at the right time at his first attempt. The temptation to desert poor Jenson and join the masses betting on Hamilton is very strong.

But I will soldier on for a while yet, believing that miracles are still possible and Honda will work out their problems before long. Fat chance, I know, but this is probably Button’s last chance and I’m not ready to give up on him yet.

It does not help that Mike Lawrence has written a very good article for Pitpass dot com, analyzing Honda’s weaknesses, most of which I agree with. He places much of the blame on Nick Fry’s shoulders and it is hard to argue with his assessment; the buck stops inevitably with the boss of the outfit.

I think Mike makes a mistake in dragging Henry V in as an example, however. It’s an unfortunate choice that weakens the force of Mike’s argument. Henry was England’s hero, not only because he gave them victories, but also because he stood with them in their troubles, sharing their hardships and inspiring them to great things. Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s speech before the Battle of Agincourt may be romanticized but it is as good a guess as anyone else’s; the fact is that Henry’s troops fought as well as they did because they loved him.

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

Extract from Henry’s speech, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

The whole speech can be read here, if you’re interested. I know it’s a bit off the subject of motor racing but hey, it was Mike who introduced the idea. And I would hazard a guess that, were Nick Fry to have anything like the leadership qualities of Henry V, Honda would not be in the mess they are now.

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