Whilst still refusing to throw in the towel altogether until it is mathematically impossible, defending world champion Jenson Button has reflected in the wake of an 'horrific' Korean Grand Prix that his bid to make it back-to-back title triumphs in F1 2010 is now sadly 'pretty much over'.
Already the outsider amongst the five crown-chasing contenders heading into F1's inaugural outing around the Korea International Circuit, Button needed a strong result to keep himself in with a shout – but after grappling desperately for grip throughout on a treacherous track surface, he did not get it.
Running sixth early on and finding himself with his hands full in fending off a feisty Michael Schumacher behind, the British star not uncharacteristically became the first of the front-runners to pit for intermediate rubber as the water slowly dispersed, but he rejoined right in the midst of a six-car midfield scrap, in which he never truly made any progress and went on to take the chequered flag outside of the points in a lowly twelfth.
A late-race pirouette and a best lap time some 1.7 seconds slower than that of McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton – who finished second – was indeed something of an anomaly for a driver who invariably excels in such difficult conditions in which a deft touch can pay dividends, and the outcome now leaves Button some 42 points adrift of the world championship lead with only 50 remaining on the table in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. It does not, he confessed, look good.
“I can't do anything except laugh, because that was the most hysterical race!” the 30-year-old told the BBC
afterwards, laughing to conceal the pain. “I didn't have any grip and was just so slow – I was pretty much the slowest person on the circuit. I was really struggling with locking fronts – as soon as I hit the brakes, we locked fronts – so every time I braked for a corner I went straight on, because I couldn't stop the car.
“Also, I lost three or four places when Adrian [Sutil] decided to drive me off the circuit – I don't know what he was thinking. Even without that, though, I didn't really have the pace. [I pitted for inters since] I didn't have any wet tyres left, so along with not being fast I was just destroying tyres. The set-up we've got is slightly unusual, but not that unusual. I don't know what happened or where [the speed] went, but there must have been something wrong because it was undriveable. It was a pretty horrific day, really.”
Expressing his opinion – like several of his rivals – that 'the race should have been stopped earlier than it was' on visibility grounds in the fast-fading light, a downcast Button went on to acknowledge that he is now all-but consigned to a rear-gunner role for Hamilton over the final two races, barring a substantial slice of misfortune for his countryman as well as Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
“Not really,” he responded, when asked if his title challenge is still alive. “I'll now have to rely on the cars in front of me failing, so no, not really. My championship is pretty much over, but until I can't win the championship mathematically, I have to keep fighting. I'm not saying it's going to be easy and it is a very small chance, but I need to keep pushing.”
“We'll have to de-brief Jenson's strategy carefully, but perhaps we could have given him a better afternoon,” mused McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, praising both drivers for their 'supreme ability' in not making any 'truly significant errors' in the race. “Suffice to say, at this stage, only that his first set of tyres were badly-worn and we therefore had to change them when we did. His race was a bit of a struggle thereafter.”