Jenson Button can still be a factor in this year's F1 world championship, despite scoring only six points in the last five races and dropping to eighth overall in the standings.
That is the view of none other than Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner who, on the eve of the British Grand Prix, has warned that 'only a fool' would consider branding Button an also-ran in this year's championship chase.
After winning spectacularly in the opening round of the year in Melbourne, the Briton appeared poised to pick where he left off in 2011, when he finished second overall to RBR's Sebastian Vettel in the points race. However, since then, the McLaren man has secured just one further podium, with second place in China, and scored just a handful of points in the two ensuing events in Spain. Although he has yet to post an official DNF, he has been classified in 14th, 16th (twice) and 18th position in the remaining four races amid concerns that he has lost his way with McLaren's MP4-27 since the team was mandated to change its floor design and then introduced a higher nose.
As a result of his slump, the 32-year old languishes eighth overall, 62 points off championship leader Fernando Alonso and 39 behind McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, whose only non-score came last time out after colliding with Pastor Maldonado in Valencia. Red Bull's two drivers are also ahead of Button, with Mark Webber second overall and Vettel slipping to fourth after being forced to retire from the European GP. Horner, however, insists that it is too early in the 20-race campaign to dismiss Button's chances.
"It's strange because, at the beginning of the year, he was the form driver, particularly on these tyres," he told Britain's Daily Mirror
newspaper, "His drive in Australia was very impressive, [and] then he was very quick in Malaysia and China. For whatever reason, he has not been happy the last two or three races, but it would be very foolish to underestimate him or write him off because he only needs to put two or three races together and he's right back in it."
McLaren, after taking little development of note to Valencia, are set to add several new solutions to the MP4-27 for its home race, which could see both
Button and Hamilton return as potential race winners.
"Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus will be the top contenders at Silverstone, but it's going to be tight," Horner conceded, "We've all seen [that], this year, it's so difficult to take a snapshot of a single race and make predictions. So many cars have looked fast at different events. For sure, we made a step forward at Valencia, but the circuit challenge of Silverstone is totally different. It has high speed corners and quick changes of direction and, probably, a lot cooler temperatures with the likelihood of rain as well."
Asked whether Button has the strength of character to bounce back should he find the McLaren more to his liking over the remainder of the season, Horner was in no doubt.
"He's got enough experience to deal with the mental side of it," he insisted, "He has not suddenly become a slow driver. There is obviously something that isn't right for him at the moment [and], as soon as he gets that sorted, for sure he will be a big contender."