Christian Horner has accused Red Bull Racing's F1 2010 title rivals McLaren-Mercedes of using Jenson Button as 'a sacrificial lamb' in last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka to aid Lewis Hamilton's bid for world championship glory – at the expense of his own.
The only driver inside the top ten on the starting grid to begin the race on the harder 'Option' tyres, Button was able to run longer than any of his immediate rivals before pitting, and leapfrogged RBR pairing Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber into the lead when the duo made their own stops on laps 24 and 25 respectively.
As the German and Australian closed the gap, however, Horner contends that Button slowed his pace at the behest of his team in an effort to back the two Red Bulls up towards Fernando Alonso and Hamilton behind and secure his fellow Brit a chance of attacking them, albeit in so doing severely compromising his own chances despite theoretically being the better-placed of the two countrymen in the race.
The energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal believes McLaren deliberately delayed the defending world champion's scheduled pit-stop to that very end – with just Kamui Kobayashi and Jaime Alguersuari coming in later – only for Hamilton's subsequent gearbox issue to put paid to the plan.
“We were a bit concerned by Jenson's race strategy, as we knew we would come out behind him and then he started to back everybody up towards Hamilton,” Horner told The Daily Telegraph
. “It was sort of like being in a McLaren sandwich, but then it looked like Hamilton developed a problem and they aborted that strategy for Jenson. It looked a little bit like he was a sacrificial lamb. I don't know. It just seemed strange.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, however, has offered short shrift to such a notion, denying electing to hamper one of his drivers in order to help the other, and conceding that whilst using Button in such a role had been an option, the objective of the unusual strategy was to give the nine-time grand prix-winner the best opportunity to gain ground after changing over to the softer 'Prime' rubber.
“Yes, there was [the possibility to use Button as a roadblock], but at that point we also had to consider Jenson,” the Englishman reflected. “We wanted to give him enough time on the Option tyre, to have a go. If we had left him out there longer...it is not how we play our game. Maybe others would, but that is not how we go motor racing.
“Ultimately, that strategy didn't come off as best as we'd have liked, because the others' Option tyres didn't fall away as quickly as we'd anticipated. Still, we feel it was a strategic choice worth taking. After switching to Options, Jenson showed excellent pace, and I think we had the second-fastest car [in the race].”