Just days after suggesting that Jenson Button would be allowed to try and pull his world championship ambitions from the fire by going for victory in Brazil, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that the Briton may find himself playing a supporting role to team-mate Lewis Hamilton after all.
Button lies 42 points off the championship lead with a maximum of 50 on offer in the final two rounds, while Hamilton is 'only' 21 adrift of old rival Fernando Alonso after finishing as runner-up to the Spaniard in Korea last time out. Although neither McLaren driver has their destiny entirely in their own hands, Hamilton has the better chance of keeping his hopes alive at Interlagos, provided Alonso does not win the race, and logic dictates that his team-mate play a supporting role - unless Button is far and away superior to everyone and can keep Alonso off the top of the podium.
Previewing the penultimate round, Whitmarsh insisted that the reigning champion would be given every opportunity to resurrect the dream of back-to-back titles, but has since backtracked slightly, to concede that Button may have to relinquish his hold on the crown even as the weekend progresses.
"We'll see what the situation is during the race," he told BBC Sport
, "I think the right thing for a racing driver is to go there - and win and I'd be disappointed if Jenson wasn't going there trying to win. I think the championship - for Jenson in particular - is tough, but if he was telling me that he has given up, I would be deeply disappointed. I think the right target is for him to get his car in front of all of our competitors."
With Red Bull having both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in the hunt for honours, only Alonso's Ferrari squad can concentrate on a single candidate, but Whitmarsh is confident that he will be able to ask Button to play the team role if necessary.
"We'll see what happens over the course of the weekend," he admitted, "There's a good relationship between the two drivers. I'm sure they are going to co-operate with each other. I think Jenson is a remarkably composed, mature thinking driver. He should go there with the attitude that he should be trying to seek to win the race and, during the course of the weekend, I'm sure he will do everything he can to fulfil the ambitions of the team.
"I see no reason why we can't be competitive and win in Brazil, but we are in a fierce championship at the moment, and Ferrari and Red Bull won't stand still. They will be doing everything they can to win and no-one can predict which guy is going to be quicker round Interlagos, which is great. We'll just see what the situation is in the race itself. If we are in the fortunate position of running in a strong one-two position then that's a nice challenge to have, but I think the right frame of mind is to go there to win it and have a one-two."