Jenson Button has been praised as 'a phenomenal talent' who 'can fight for the world championship again in the right car' by Mercedes GP rival Michael Schumacher – as the McLaren-Mercedes star has explained that 'feeling the team around me' and having them 'listen' to him more has been the key to his strong performances in F1 2011.
With six races left to run, Button currently sits third in the drivers' standings – ahead of team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton, widely-perceived to be out-and-out the faster of the pair but a man who has been routinely shown up by his fellow title-winner in recent weeks, to the extent that it is the 2009 F1 World Champion who is now being talked about as the team leader at McLaren.
Second place in last weekend's Italian Grand Prix marked Button's third podium finish in swift succession, and indeed, over the last seven races, only Red Bull Racing's runaway world championship leader Sebastian Vettel has triumphed more.
Schumacher – who found himself on the receiving end of some criticism from Button for his on-track etiquette during his fierce scrap with Hamilton at Monza [see separate story – click here
] – contends that another title for the eleven-time grand prix-winner cannot be ruled out.
“Even if maybe he is two per cent below the level of his peak, he is still a phenomenal talent,” the German legend told news agency SID
, adding in an interview with fashion magazine Vogue
: “He can fight for the world championship again in the right car.”
Meanwhile, as he increasingly asserts himself inside the Woking-based outfit, Button has reflected that he is enjoying the significant contribution he is making towards the development of McLaren's 2012 challenger, and that he is driving better even than he did en route
to the laurels with Brawn GP two years ago – not bad for a man who many feared had stepped straight into the lion's den in boldly taking on Hamilton in his own backyard.
“It is to do with confidence after winning the world championship, feeling the team around me and being in a good place off the circuit,” the 31-year-old told the Daily Telegraph
. “I took my engineers and mechanics out for dinner on Saturday night in Italy. It is not for a competitive edge over Lewis' side of the garage; it was to pay them back for all the hard work they have done.
“[The team] are really listening to what I have to say; every time I drive the simulator, we test something that I specifically want. I don't think I am having more of a say, but I think they are listening more, which is nice.”