McLaren-Mercedes star Jenson Button has stressed that it is imperative that he and his fellow F1 2011 protagonists start applying the pressure upon runaway world championship leader Sebastian Vettel – or else watch the defending title-holder streak away to a second consecutive drivers' crown.
Following his dominant Turkish Grand Prix triumph last weekend – a performance that atoned for his calamitous and ill-tempered coming-together with Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber in Istanbul twelve months earlier – Vettel has established a commanding 34-point advantage in the championship standings, with three victories from the opening four outings and the runner-up spoils in the only race that he failed to win, in China.
With Adrian Newey's Red Bull RB7 once again comfortably the class of the field in the early stages of the campaign, the odds are already considerably shortening on the likelihood of the young German making it back-to-back title successes – but Webber is ostensibly beginning to get back on terms following a torrid start to proceedings in 2011, and invariably shines around the upcoming circuits on the calendar, as was evinced by a superb mid-season run in 2010. Button contends that if the Australian can get a handle on his team-mate, then the rest of them may just stand a fighting chance, too.
“Sebastian is obviously a great driver, but his team-mate needs to put him under pressure more,” the 2008 F1 World Champion is quoted as having said by The Guardian
. “I am sure Mark is trying his best, but it is not happening yet. I am sure it will. We all want to see Seb put under pressure, and we all saw what happened last year [when Webber's form appeared to unsettle Vettel] – though I am not sure he would be like that now, because I am guessing he has grown up a little bit.
“I don't know where Mark is in the head or where he is with the car. Lewis [Hamilton – Button's McLaren team-mate] and I joked in an interview that we are racing for second. Seb has got the quicker car and if he gets away at the start, gets into the lead and doesn't make mistakes, you are not going to beat him. That is what we have to try to stop.
“We have got to put pressure on him and see what happens. It might show he now has inner strength and doesn't make mistakes anymore – but nobody knows. Turkey was the perfect place to start from pole. Somewhere else, we might see more battling.”
There is significant speculation inside the F1 paddock as to whether this year will be Webber's last at Red Bull – and indeed whether it will be the last of his grand prix career – in the wake of mixed signals in recent months, but whilst praising the way in which Vettel has revved things up another gear as the reigning world champion in 2011, the energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner is confident that the 35-year-old Aussie can similarly step up to the plate as he increasingly gets to grips with the new Pirelli tyres.
“I think Sebastian has just got the benefit of experience now,” he reflected. “He is enjoying that, and he is in phenomenal form. He has a good understanding of how the tyres work, what he needs from them and what they need. Seb has adapted his driving style very well to suit the new tyres. Mark is getting better and better at that with more mileage. We've seen them converging in recent races, and I expect that to be the case as we head back to circuits where Mark has always been very strong.”
Alluding to having taken 'a good step forward' with its hitherto troublesome KERS system that 'definitely paid dividends' in Turkey, Horner urged, nonetheless, that RBR must not take anything for granted even in the light of its outstanding start to 2011, mindful that pursuers McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix have all variously ramped up the pressure on the early-season pace-setters over the last three outings.