Jenson Button confessed that had it not been for an 'inspired' tactical call by team-mate Rubens Barrichello during a thrilling and chaotic qualifying hour for this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, the current F1 World Championship leader would likely have been starting the race a long way down the field.
As at Silverstone three weeks ago, the Brawn GP BGP 001 is struggling to generate sufficient tyre heat in the cool temperatures in the Eifel Mountains region, placing both Button and Barrichello on the back foot in comparison with Red Bull Racing rivals Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
That was never more in evidence than in Q2, when in stark contrast to Webber and Vettel up at the sharp end of the order, the Anglo-Brazilian pairing languished in the drop zone for the majority of the 15-minute session in 13th and 15th positions. With the rain stopping and starting again at regular intervals, choosing which tyres to be on and when to be out on-track turned into a lottery, but after watching Barrichello audaciously pit for slicks and instantly light up the timing screens, Button knew he had to follow suit.
An under-pressure, last-ditch flying effort on dry rubber was enough to haul the Frome-born ace up into the top six and safety, and meant he lived to fight for another day and would grab third spot on the grid late on in Q3 – but he knew it had been a close-run thing indeed...
“Just getting into the final qualifying session was an achievement today,” the 29-year-old opined, “so I'm really pleased to have qualified in third. It was a pretty eventful hour and Q2 in particular was madness, but it was good fun. I thought it was too wet for slicks, but Rubens made it work and we were able to switch tyres with just enough time to make my timed lap count.
“The race is going to be interesting, as the forecast looks like it's going to be a mix of wet and dry conditions. We've improved the car since practice yesterday, but it's still going to be tough to keep the tyres warm and you'll need a bit of luck with the weather. Congratulations to Mark on his first pole position today. We'll be doing everything possible to ensure that it doesn't become his first win tomorrow!”
After blitzing Q2, meanwhile, Barrichello went on to snatch second away from his team-mate by just over a tenth at the close in Q3, in so doing annexing what is only his third front row grid slot of the 2009 campaign to-date. On heavier fuel and needing to close the gap on the runaway points leader if he is to retain any hope of battling for the title, the experienced Brazilian knows he now has to make his qualifying advantage count on race day.
“I really enjoyed the excitement of qualifying today,” the 37-year-old enthused, “and am very happy to have come away with second and to be starting from the front row tomorrow. I felt the track was just about good enough for slicks in Q2 so I radioed the team that I was coming in, but I didn't hear their response so thankfully the tyres were waiting for me when I arrived in the pits!
“It was a great decision and gave me a much more relaxed end to Q2 than some of the others. It's going to be a tricky race tomorrow, so we'll have to be on our toes and take advantage of whatever the weather throws at us. I'm looking forward to it.”
“The weather ensured an intense qualifying session for everyone,” affirmed the Brackley-based outfit's team principal Ross Brawn, “and we are extremely pleased to have come out of this afternoon with Rubens and Jenson in second and third positions. Both drivers were superb today. Rubens made an inspired call in Q2 to come in early for dry tyres, and his direction was crucial in getting Jenson in and back onto slicks with enough time to complete his timed lap, which he did under great pressure as the rain fell again.
“Q3 was quite calm in comparison, and both drivers were able to take full advantage of their well-balanced cars to get us into the top three. The teamwork in the garage was fantastic, and we are all delighted and a little relieved to be starting from second and third positions tomorrow. Congratulations to Mark for his maiden pole position, and congratulations to Mercedes-Benz with five cars in the top seven!”