After the Turkish Grand Prix, I wrote that this year’s World Drivers’ Championship was Jenson Button’s to lose; his Brawn team had built the best car, he was driving superbly, and, even when it appeared others had him covered, he managed to grab victory from a certain defeat.
His lead was more than 30 points, a nearly insurmountable margin as the season neared its midway point. Nothing could have gone wrong for him and the Brawn team, even if they tried their hardest to do so.
And then came the British Grand Prix when, with a slew of new developments, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, and Red Bull Racing went on the attack, and thoroughly demolished the field.
No one was ever going to beat them that weekend, and they ran away with a resounding 1-2…and made a statement in the process.
This title is not over just yet.
With another 1-2 at the Nurburgring (with Webber winning this time), the two Red Bull drivers may have Jenson and Brawn GP on the ropes.
The updated RB5 doesn’t have anywhere near the teething problems I thought it might (especially the addition of s double diffuser, which wasn’t a part of the car’s fundamental design).
But, not only have they come out strong in the prior two races, they’ve outright pulverized the field, even being more dominant than Brawn was through the first seven races.
Vettel now sits 21 points back, while Webber isn’t laying over for anyone, keeping himself within 22.5 points of the lead.
Plus, remember that Vettel’s contact with Robert Kubica in Australia ruined that race and the next one for him. Had that incident not happened, he could easily be within 10 points of the lead.
With the halfway point of the season now upon us, we may now truly be able to speculate the likelihood of a title fight into (perhaps) the final race of the season. Vettel and Webber have each chopped off 11 points over the past two races.
Do they still need some help to catch Button and draw even with him? Well, I’m sure they wouldn’t say “no” to a DNF for the British driver, but they might necessarily need him to his trouble.
If they can continue to finish ahead of him, then they’ll chip further into that lead as the season goes, and should be well within reach of him by the final race.
However, that would be dependent on Button and Brawn not reasserting their own dominance. Remember, Ross Brawn knows how to develop car, so he’ll have some tricks up his sleeve over the remainder of the season.
Button, as well, has always been a capable driver, especially when given a competitive car. He may have gotten lost a couple times in his career, but those were times when he was settled with an inept team and a terrible machine (see Benetton in 2001, and Honda in 2007 and 2008).
Plus, Mr. Brawn has handled many a title fight in his career, and knows how to nurture a driver through the pressures. You don’t Michael Schumacher won all those championships without some help, do you?
Throw Red Bull’s inexperience in a title chase, along with the fact they have to contending drivers who might take points away from each other and this championship could still be the hands of Jenson Button and Brawn GP.
After all, if they start winning again, the gap will once again increase. Even if it only does so a little bit, it would swing momentum back in the favor of the Brackley outfit, and make closing the interval back up all the more difficult, given that there will be fewer races to do.
The next stretch of races, the ones that run from the end of this month through September (remember that there’s a month off in between Hungary and Valencia) will be absolutely vital in the run to the 2009 championship.
If the Red Bull drivers can chip away into Button’s lead some more, they may very well be in the prime spot to overtake the Briton. However, if Button can regain his winning ways, he just might put that title out of reach.
Throw in the fact that Ferrari is improving, Williams is solid, and Lewis Hamilton finally may have decent car underneath, and there are a lot of variables in play now.
This year’s championship appears to be as uncertain now as it was when the season started back in March. And is it fun, or what?
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