Reigning world champion Jenson Button has vowed to take an 'aggressive' approach towards the final five races of the F1 2010 campaign – forecasting that even the slightest error from this point in will be heavily punished, and that 'the guy who cracks least' will ultimately emerge with the drivers' crown.
Having been unceremoniously shunted out of second place in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps at the end of last month by Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel, Button knew he needed a strong result in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last weekend to keep his title defence alive and avoid being cast into an obedient rear-gunner role for McLaren-Mercedes team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton over the remaining five outings.
After flying into the lead from second on the grid when the starting lights went out, the British star led all the way to his pit-stop, under intense pressure from behind from the visibly faster Ferrari of Fernando Alonso – and whilst he was ultimately disappointed to cede the position after both had been in to change tyres, the runner-up spoils were nonetheless enough to vault Button firmly back into the reckoning for glory.
Indeed, the top five protagonists – with Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and current championship leader Mark Webber making up the quintet – are now all blanketed by a scant 24 points, or less than the value of a grand prix victory. With Singapore next up on the calendar in nine days' time, Button acknowledges that it is very much game on.
“I had mixed emotions on Sunday,” the 30-year-old told his official website, having initially opined that McLaren's race strategy had been slightly flawed. “Obviously I wanted to win the race and, having led most of it, that was probably an achievable ambition – but I also managed to score some very useful points over the guys ahead of me in the championship, and that gave me a great feeling.
“What was also interesting was the damage to the rear of my car. Fernando had hit me on the first lap, and it caused some damage to the floor – but I didn't realise quite how much damage it had caused until I saw the car after the race. I was quite surprised that we were able to have such good race pace given the damage to the floor.
“Would I have felt better if I'd won the race, but had Lewis and Mark alongside me on the podium? That's a difficult one to answer, but I think, in the immediate aftermath of the race, you tend to look at what might have happened, and if I'd stayed ahead of Fernando after his pit-stop, then it's reasonable to assume I had every chance of winning the race.
“Did we get the strategy wrong? People have said it was a case of 'who blinked first' but, really, the fact was that we didn't have the fastest car in the race and, while it would have been possible to have kept the lead, Fernando's pace meant that, at best, that was still quite a long shot. I think the team played its card properly, it's just that there were a number of factors that were always going to work hard against us to ensure that a victory was difficult.
“I took the opportunity with both hands, though, and I scored 18 points on a day when Lewis scored none, Mark took home eight and Sebastian twelve. Now, you can't help but look at the drivers' championship table and just think, 'wow, how can it be so close?' It's funny – after Spa, everyone was saying it was a two-horse race between Lewis and Mark, but I can easily see this championship going right down to the last race. I think we've seen that not one driver is going to walk away with the title – there's going to be a fight right to the very end.”