Jenson Button cannot afford to endure another bad weekend as the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship campaign speeds towards its dramatic conclusion, asserts Christian Horner – with the Red Bull Racing team principal confident that the title battle is still very much a four-horse race.
Button failed to score for the first time all season in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, when he found himself taken out by Renault rookie Romain Grosjean during the opening lap confusion. However, that retirement came off the back of four consecutive outings in which the Brawn GP star had taken the chequered flag no higher than fifth, conceding vital ground to chief rivals Rubens Barrichello, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
Whilst the season-long world championship leader has notched up just eleven points since his home race at Silverstone back in June, team-mate Barrichello has tallied 21 and Red Bull duo Vettel and Webber 24 apiece. The pressure is incontrovertibly on, and with the high-speed, low-downforce Monza circuit – scene of the Italian Grand Prix next up on the calendar – expected to suit the Adrian Newey-penned RB5 down to the ground, should Button struggle again, Horner contends, he will be heavily punished.
“He can't continue to have race weekends like he's had without being punished points-wise in the next couple of events,” the Englishman – a former racer himself – told Reuters
, alluding to the fact that Button's advantage in the drivers' standings has been reduced to just 16 points over Barrichello, 19 over Spa podium finisher Vettel and 20.5 over Webber. “It's still a four-horse race between now and the end of the championship.
“Rubens has taken ten points out of him in the last two races and Sebastian six points here, and he (Button) has not had a good weekend since Istanbul in early June. Sebastian has moved to within 19 points, and although Mark didn't score, both still have a real chance of overhauling him. It's all left to play for, and I think there's going to be another twist in the championship between now and the end of the year.”
Indeed, following an early-season flourish that saw him triumph in six of the first seven grands prix of the year to build up a substantial championship lead, of late Button has seemingly been doing his damndest to throw away what is comfortably the best chance of lifting the laurels he has ever had. Insistent that he is still as motivated and focussed as he was, the 29-year-old's sole saving grace has been that whilst his rivals have been taking points off him, none of the three has been able to do so consistently, with each of them winning once in the last five grands prix but tending to either score big or not score at all.
The recent renaissance of former world champions Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes, too, has aided Button's cause, as Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen in particular have been able to limit the damage done by his challengers – as have BMW-Sauber and, incredibly, Force India on occasion – and the Frome-born ace is adamant that he can swiftly get his bid for glory back on-track.
“I'm positive and excited about the challenge of the next few races,” he asserted. “I'm not frustrated or negative. We've got to start getting back to being competitive. All I need to do is finish fourth or fifth, but that's not what I want to do. I want to win races.
“You've got to say 'think about the championship', but I still want to win races. I'm not going to suddenly back off after qualifying and take it easy in the races, because if I'm in fifth I still want to do well, I still want to win races and I still want to be competitive – and that's exactly what will hopefully happen in Monza.”