Jenson Button views the Formula One title race with the wistful gaze of the non-contender. He is in 15th place with 19 points, 269 behind the leader, Nico Rosberg. He was a champion once, in 2009, and with 300 races behind him his opinion is meaningful as Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton do battle over the final races of the season, starting with Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Button is sure of one thing: if Hamilton, his team-mate at McLaren for three seasons, does win a fourth world title it will be the best of the lot.
“Lewis has been really unfortunate,” he said. “He should have so many more points than he has. But if he wins the world championship this year, it means so much more, because he’s had some really tough races. I think he’ll put it down as his best championship if he wins. He’s been bloody unlucky, and that’s exactly what it is.”
Hamilton certainly will cherish this title above the others if he manages it. The engine failures in China, Russia and Malaysia have, it seems, seeped into his soul and even fed a sense of paranoia. Then there are those bad starts in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Italy. Starts, though, are all part of the race and they were made more difficult specifically to give the drivers an extra challenge.
Hamilton has converted only three of his eight poles into race wins (Rosberg has five from seven) and has not won since July. Like all champions he is resilient and his robust sense of confidence has always appeared indestructible but is Rosberg, who is driving better than ever, finally getting to him?
There is a nice story about driving gloves. At Singapore, Hamilton noticed there was a different stitching in Rosberg’s gloves. The manufacturers were contacted and Hamilton was issued with exactly the same gloves for the race in Malaysia, where he was utterly dominant until his engine blew 15 laps from the end. It is difficult to imagine the old Hamilton, in all his glory, worrying about such stuff.
Deep down, whatever is being said on social media, he must know Mercedes are not nobbling his engine. The team’s technical director, Paddy Lowe, addressed the issue when it came up for discussion again here on Friday.
“If we were good enough to arrange such sabotage we wouldn’t have any failures. I think anybody with an ounce of intelligence could work that out,” said Lowe, who clearly has sympathy for Hamilton.
“We all know you can throw three double sixes in a row but when you see it done you wonder how it happened,” he said. “We have that scenario with Lewis. We have eight power units running around out there and with the exception of one failure they have all fallen to Lewis. That is something none of us can really understand. We’re gutted about it, and we wish luck wouldn’t fall that way.
“I was only just getting over the idea of the consecutive failures he had in qualifying earlier in the year, where already we felt the statistics had fallen very unfairly. I was very happy for Lewis that he managed to recover his points. It’s a real blow but we quickly became rational and accepted these things happen and we moved on.”
Hamilton, then, has had rotten luck and a technical issue with his clutch at the start of races. His desire to win is still immense, as shown when he came back from Rosberg’s victories in the first four races to win six out of the next seven up until the summer break.
Rosberg must take some credit for the current state of affairs; he leads by 23 points with five grands prix to go. Lowe said. “I think Nico is an incredibly strong driver and we have seen over the last three years he can qualify extremely well. I think, for me, the step he has made this year is that he has improved his race craft considerably. He’s proving himself much better able to fight for the positions.”
Rosberg agreed with that assessment: “I have more experience and have done a good year. I’ve really learned to manage my energies and know where not to waste energies in rubbish stuff. Family helps. It’s a nice base I have. I don’t think about the big picture and take it race by race.”
The German maintained his psychological advantage by coming first in both practice sessions on Friday.
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