Jenson Button: every race is part of healing after death of my father

Button was glad not to reach the podium in Australia
McLaren driver takes blame for choice of tyres in Malaysia

Jenson Button chose a quiet afternoon in Malaysia to speak about his emotional turmoil in the aftermath of the Australian Grand Prix, in which he had to come to terms with being without the reassuring presence of his father.

John Button, a popular figure in the F1 paddock, died in January, aged 70. His son finished fourth in Australia two weeks ago, later upgraded to third because of Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification. But he was relieved not to be part of the champagne-spraying jamboree on the podium. "Looking back, I think it was a good thing that I wasn’t on the podium," he said.

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Jenson Button | The Guardian

Bahrain Grand Prix: Jenson Button fit and firing for his 250th F1 race

34-year-old McLaren driver cites mental and physical strength
‘The positives of a guy my age outweigh the negatives’

Jenson Button must wonder whether he nodded off for a brief aeon because suddenly he has a new boss at McLaren, a new team-mate too, his long-term girlfriend has become his fiancee and now someone has told him that on Sunday in Bahrain, if everything goes according to plan, he will start the 250th Formula One grand prix of his career.

The illusion that time moves more quickly as one gets older must seem disconcertingly real for the McLaren driver.

Jenson Button | The Guardian

Christian Horner revels in Red Bull’s mastery of F1 constructors’ race

• Team championship can be clinched in Abu Dhabi
• Sebastian Vettel out to equal Sir Jackie Stewart’s 27 wins

Christian Horner on Thursday hailed Red Bull’s third successive year of domination in Formula One as “for sure our biggest achievement.” And the team principal suggested that Sebastian Vettel could go on to emulate and even beat Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles when he said: “I can quite easily see him with us for another five years.”

Red Bull are poised to become only the fourth team to win a hat-trick of constructors’ championship in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Vettel, meanwhile, is favourite to land another hat-trick – the drivers’ title – in Texas or Brazil later this month.

Horner could be forgiven his moment of pride, because his claims are justified. Formula One, dreading another period of monotonous domination so soon after the Schumacher/Ferrari era, changed the rules this year, especially in relation to the blown diffuser and the flexi-wing, to emasculate the runaway bulls from Milton Keynes.

The plan was to drag Red Bull back into the pack. And for the first two thirds of the season, it worked. But the old order has been restored, with Vettel winning the last four grands prix; he has led every lap of the last three races, equalling Ayrton Senna’s 1989 record.

Referring to the rule changes that were designed to bring an end to his team’s hegemony, Horner said: “Formula One has a history of doing that sort of thing. Look at active suspension, or you can go back 20 years and see it. I think we saw a big regulation change which had a big effect on our performance. We have not moaned or complained about it, we have just worked hard on the same sheet of paper as everyone else.

“It is uncomfortable [for some people] the success that Sebastian has had and uncomfortable for some the success that Red Bull has had. That’s not our fault.”

Time and again, Horner talk about the ethos of a successful team. “It is very simplistic to say it is all about [chief technical officer] Adrian Newey. Yes, it’s Adrian’s team but you have to have all of the elements doing their bit. I liken it to a conductor – you can have the greatest conductor in the world but if you haven’t got the right string instruments or wind instruments, the music will be rubbish.”

But Horner’s efforts were in vain because Newey and Vettel were the only members of the team his audience wanted to talk about. “Adrian is the greatest designer in Formula One since Colin Chapman. What he has achieved is unprecedented, in the modern world of F1 and we have created an environment that has got the best out of Adrian, one that he enjoys and feels stimulated in.”

Red Bull’s domination is looking dangerously like an epoch. And if they do go on to match Ferrari, Horner feels it will be the greater achievement. “The difference between that time and now is that then you had total freedom. You had competition of tyre manufacturers, you had total freedom of testing, and there was no one else operating at Ferrari at Schumacher’s level. Whereas now, the way the regulations are, everybody’s got the same tyres and everybody is allowed the same amount of testing.

“It’s much more constricted and restricted. So to achieve success now, and dominance, is arguably a lot harder than it was in that period.

“This year, we have worked really, really well and effectively because we quite often haven’t had the quickest car. On those days, the drivers – particularly Sebastian – have dragged the best out of it.”

Horner reserved his most fulsome praise for the driver who – aged only 25 – could equal Sir Jackie Stewart’s record of 27 victories in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

“What Sebastian has achieved in a relatively short period has been hugely impressive. And he will get better. That’s the exciting thing about him.

“He’s driving better this year compared to last year, and he drove better in 2011 than he did in 2010 because his experience is growing and his character is continuing to evolve. You forget what a young guy he is.”

Formula One is expected to have a fourth British driver next season, with Max Chilton tipped to take over from Charles Pic at Marussia. Chilton, who organises his own sponsorship and has a multimillionaire father, will take Pic’s place in the first practice session on Friday. The 21-year-old said: “I’m a racer and I want to get a race seat. I’d love the chance, and hopefully it will come soon. I’d like to do a good job, but it would be a bit silly for an F1 team to try to work out whether you are ready with just one session.”

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Peugeot’s Le Mans withdrawal a blow to team but the race will endure | Richard Williams

Peugeot’s new hybrid 908 is destined to make its only journey straight to the company’s museum, a casualty of the recession

A group of Peugeot Sport engineers and mechanics had barely touched down in the United States on Wednesday, on their way to a test session at the Sebring circuit, when they were given the news that the company was pulling out of this year’s Le Mans 24-hour race and of the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship as a whole, with immediate effect. So their new car, a hybrid 908 intended to challenge similar vehicles from Audi and Toyota, is destined to make its only journey straight to the company’s museum.

This is a great shame for the technicians and the drivers who were looking forward to a challenging season and hoping to repeat the team’s Le Mans victories of 1992, 1993 and 2009. A disappointment, too, for the hundreds of thousands who make their way to the historic circuit of the Sarthe each June, many of them wanting to support a home team.

But it was always thus in motor racing, and particularly in endurance racing. Le Mans, an event founded in 1923 as a way of showing potential customers that your headlamps, windscreen wipers and canvas hoods could function at high speed around the clock, remains an effective shop window for major motor manufacturers. But those companies are at the whim of the global economic climate and the wishes of investors who may have no interest in the sport, paying attention only to the bottom line of the annual balance sheet.

After the Bentleys had dominated Le Mans in the 1920s, during the first decade of the race, it must have been a disappointment to their fans to see them depart. Ditto the Alfa Romeos and Bugattis that took over in the 1930s. Jaguar’s four wins in the 1950s were followed by a withdrawal, while Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin had to be content with a single win apiece before bowing out. Ferrari and Ford divided the spoils in the 1960s and were seen no more; the same with Matra in the early 1970s. Porsche took over for the remainder of the decade, their victories continuing throughout the 1980s and sporadically during the 1990s.

Ten wins for Audi’s R8 and R18 models in the past 12 years, interrupted by single victories for a car in Bentley’s colours (itself based on the Audi) and for Peugeot’s diesel-engined 908, represent the sort of hegemony that can intimidate rivals. There will always be the suspicion that the Peugeot board’s decision might have been different had their team followed up that last success two years ago, but they seem to have folded their tents not through the fear of enduring an invidious comparison between their hybrid technology and that of their German and Japanese rivals but because of a worldwide recession that calls into question the spending of many tens of millions of euros on a nonessential activity.

So the Peugeot 908 has gone the way of the supercharged Bentley, the Alfa 8C, the Bugatti Type 57 “Tank”, the Mercedes 300SLR, the Jaguar D-Type and XJR, the Aston DBR1, the original Ferrari Testa Rossa, the Ford GT40, the Porsche 917 and 956, the Matra MS670, the Sauber C9, the Mazda 787 and the Williams-designed BMW V12 LMR. Not a bad museum to be in. And Le Mans, of course, will carry on as it always has, not just a monument to its own tradition but a proving ground for worthwhile new technologies.

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