Much has been made about Jenson Button’s decline in form over the second half of this season, and Ross Brawn has weighed in with his own evaluation. He has suggested that Button’s driving became more conservative once he realized he was the odds on favorite to take the championship this year. Button took five victories and a podium in the first six races of the season. His lead and momentum were so great at that point, it looked as though he was coated in teflon. And then, beginning at his home race in Silverstone, the winning streak came unglued. Since then, he has reached the podium only once, and critics have accused him of choking.
For his part, Button has denied any loss in form. He has blamed his drop in performance on techincal issues related to the handling of the car, and the fact that Brawn’s rivals have been able to close the gap in developments. That said, however, it’s also true that Button’s performance has been eclipsed by that of his team mate, and it’s axiomatic that the best way to guage a driver’s true performance level is to compare him to the guy who’s coping with the same equipment. Since Silverstone, Barrichello has been coping better than Button.
Ross Brawn has discussed the issue with Button, and while Button has denied that he has become risk averse, Brawn isn’t so sure. As reported in The Guardian, Brawn said, “He doesn’t feel that’s the case. But it’s subconscious. When you go into a race and you have no championship pretensions, you can just nail it. If you make a mistake, well…But when you know that mistake can have much more serious consequences in terms of your championship position…”
The statistics would seem to validate this view, and so wouuld the performance of Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian has trailed Button for the entire season, in total wins and points. Once Button began to err on the side of cuation, Barrichello, who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, really began to shine. Memories are short in Formula 1, and in the second half of 2009, Barrichello’s stock has risen immeasurably on the drivers’ market, in no small part due to this comparison between himself and Button.
Brawn went on to say, “I think when this championship’s behind him, it will work differently. For me the interesting thing would be if Jenson were able to win it here, what would the race in Abu Dhabi be like? I’d love to see him in Abu Dhabi with no pressure, to see if it’s any different. Maybe it’s not.”
Image by Marz Photography, licensed through Creative Commons.