Formula One - On And Off Track Week 40

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Button seals new multi-year contract
  • Hamilton/Massa Singapore saga drags on
  • Ecclestone denies Indian GP problems

Button seals new multi-year contract

Today McLaren announced Jenson Button has signed a multi-year contact with the Woking-based team. The official statement didn’t mention how long Button will exactly stay and only mentioned ‘Jenson's re-signing is a move that will strengthen Vodafone McLaren Mercedes' long-term stability as it continues to grow and develop its race-winning form into further world championship successes’.

There have been several rumors about Button’s future in Formula One, some believed he would retire after 2012, others believed even a surprise move to Ferrari was one of the possibilities, Button himself had until now not commented other than ‘anything is possible’, but finally decided to stay with McLaren. “I've never felt more at home at a team than I do at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. I've won four of the greatest races of my life here, I'm currently lying second in the Drivers' World Championship, and I feel that I'm driving better than ever,” Button today stated.

Podium: race winner Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes
Podium: race winner Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes

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He therefore opted to stay with McLaren, “You can only achieve that with the right level of support -- and I truly believe that the passion and determination to win are stronger here at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes than anywhere else.” Looking to the future the Briton commented, “As a Grand Prix driver, those are incredibly powerful feelings to share and be part of, and they've only reinforced my desire to commit my long-term future to this team. I've made no secret of my ambition to continue winning races and World Championships, and I fully believe this is the place where I can achieve those aims.”

Button’s career had many ups and downs, but the last three years were dominated by ‘ups’ rather than ‘downs’. The 31-year old driver started his Formula One career in 2000 when he joined Williams, although still a rookie, he finished the season with 12 points and a eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship after retiring from six of the 17 races. In 2001 he joined the Benetton Renault team for two seasons, but his first year was a disaster as he only managed to score two points, his second year was better and he scored 14 points and became seventh in the championship.

From 2003 to 2005 he drove for the BAR Honda team and 1996 Champion Jacques Villeneuve was his team mate in 2003. But in 2005 BAR ran into financial problems and sold the majority of the team assets to Honda, who were determined to make a comeback in Formula One. From 2007 on the team was the official Honda works team, but no matter how much money the Japanese company invested in the sport, the results were disappointing at best, 2008 was an all-time low for Honda and Button only scored three points. Also disappointed was the Honda Board of Directors, and they decided to pull the plug. Both Button and his team mate Rubens Barrichello became unemployed and many expected this would be the end of the line for both drivers.

But Team Principal Ross Brawn came up with ingenious financial construction and saved the team from a certain death and took part in the 2009 Championship under the flag of Brawn GP. Luckily for Button and Barrichello, Brawn came up with another ingenious construction: the double diffuser. The diffuser was so efficient that Button won six out of the seven first races in 2009, something he until then had only dreamt of. The rest is history, Button went on to win the 2009 Championship, and when the Brawn GP team was taken over by Mercedes he moved to McLaren, and won the Australian Grand Prix in his second race for his new employer. He ended fifth in the championship, this year Button is second and the one and only remaining rival of Sebastian Vettel.

Jenson Button, BrawnGP wins the world championship hugs Ross Brawn
Jenson Button, BrawnGP wins the world championship hugs Ross Brawn

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Mercedes Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh praised Button in today’s statement, “Jenson is a great driver and a great guy. In fact, I can safely say that he's one of the most capable and respected drivers we've ever had, and I'm therefore absolutely delighted that he'll continue to work with us into the future.” And he is confident Button will keep on winning races in the future, “He's a considerable credit to this organisation, and I'm proud to be his Team Principal. I feel sure that he'll now build on the considerable success he's already achieved with us, and will be even more successful with us in years to come.”

His team mate Lewis Hamilton was also positive, “Jenson has been a great person to work with, and a genuine team-player, from the moment we welcomed him on board.” And there we are again, another story of a driver who couldn’t even find a race seat in 2009, and once in the right car in the right team, takes the title and becomes one of the star drivers of the sport.

Hamilton/Massa Singapore saga drags on

Although Felipe Massa and Hamilton both say they have moved on after the incident during the Singapore Grand Prix where Hamilton damaged his front wing and punctured Massa’s rear tyre which destroyed both drivers race, the word ‘destroyed’ has now become the center of attention.

Earlier this week a race edit of the Singapore Grand Prix was published on the official Formula One website in which Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley clearly tried to motivate his driver saying, “Hold Hamilton as much as we can. Destroy his race as much as we can. Come on, boy!” Smedley is known for not only being Massa’s engineer, but also is a sort of a mental coach for the Brazilian during the race.

Smedley became unwillingly immortal after he had to issue a team order in disguise during the 2010 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, won by his Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso, but it was a pretty bad disguise. “Ok ... so ... Fernando is faster ... than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?” Smedley told Massa over the radio. Of course poor Massa, who was leading the race at the time, understood that message and so did the rest of the world. Massa let Alonso past him and Smedley then reported, “Good lad. Just stick with it now. Sorry.”

Felipe Massa and Rob Smedley
Felipe Massa and Rob Smedley

The by now infamous words “Ok, so, Fernando is faster than you” have started a life of their own and YouTube clips of that moment of the race are very popular, and there are even T-shirts for sale with the same text, and for Massa’s fans there is a T-shirt with the text, “Ok, so, Felipe is faster than you” for just $20. But back to Smedley’s words about destroying the enemy.

Massa was livid after the race in Singapore and he went to see his nemesis in the media area, slapped him on the shoulder in front of the BBC camera, gave him the thumbs up and said sarcastically, “Good job huh. Very good job!” Whereupon an irritated Hamilton reacted, “Don't touch me man. Don't touch me!” But now some fans seem to think there is some sort of sinister complot, as they think Massa intentionally tried to wreck Hamilton’s car, rather than to wreck his race.

That is of course a ridiculous idea, because Massa would then also destroy his own race, something that was certainly not his intention. Others think Massa perhaps tried to protect Alonso from a charging Hamilton, but one can be pretty sure Massa wasn’t about to give up his own race and put his life and limps in danger in favor of Alonso. There is one other thing, the highlight video doesn’t reveal when Smedley said that, did he say it five laps into the race, or after 30 laps, or just before the moment the pair collided? The video was edited and perhaps the editor thought it was good idea to add Smedley’s comment just before the pair collided to add a little drama to the video.

BBC commentator Martin Brundle about the incident, “The real story is Smedley must constantly direct and motivate his driver [and] has done for some time. Why would Massa damage his own car intentionally?” Smedley clearly said destroy his race, and not destroy Hamilton, and everyone familiar with motor racing knows that it is common practice to motivate a driver with colorful words.

Ferrari thinks it is just a storm in a teacup, and on the Scuderia’s website the famous “Horse Whisperer” rubbished the idea of destroying Hamilton and denied Smedley’s words had a malicious intent. “Words, words, words.…” the article started with, and mentioned a ‘polemical mountain [was] made out of the molehill that was the phrase delivered by Rob Smedley during the Singapore Grand Prix’. The Horse Whispered further wrote, “It might not have been the most politically correct choice of word, but it definitely carried no malicious intent, especially when you take into account that Rob is a Middlesbrough lad, born and bred.”

Ferrari’s Horse Whisperer spoke again
Ferrari’s Horse Whisperer spoke again

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The Horse Whisperer also revealed Smedley said this on lap 11, shortly before both were due to make their first pit stop, and therefore ‘had nothing to do with the collision between Felipe and Lewis that happened on the following lap’. And the article finished with ‘it was all much ado about nothing’, which is the name of a comedy written by William Shakespeare. But a little slip of the Horse Whisperer when he or she made the comparison with Shakespeare, the comedy is actually about two pairs of lovers which in this case would be Ferrari and McLaren, and Massa and Hamilton…

Malicious intent or not, Formula One is gearing up for the Japanese Grand Prix, and both drivers are determined to put this behind them. “I’ve been told that there was a bit of a storm over a phrase that my race engineer said during the race. Apart from the fact that I don’t recall what Rob said, I don’t think there’s any value in stirring up trouble now and trying to link this with the subsequent contact with Hamilton: they are two separate moments and they have nothing to do with each other,” Massa said on his Ferrari weblog. And added, “I’m sure that Lewis and I will find a way to clear this up and put a lid on this story, as is only correct between two drivers. What happens on the track should remain on the track.”

Ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, drivers have hinted they want a meeting with Hamilton about his driving style, and want to sort out the Singapore clash between both drivers.

Ecclestone denies Indian GP problems

And some on track news now. Rumors persist the Buddh International Circuit located near New Delhi, India, host of the 2011 Indian Grand Prix, is still not completely ready for the inaugural race scheduled for October 30. A month ago photos of an unfinished circuit were published in the German media, and since then there has been a lot of speculation about the state the circuit is now in. It also has been reported drivers and team members were having a hard time to get the necessary visa for India, as well as problems regarding taxes teams would have to pay to bring their equipment to India. The tax problem seems to have been solved, as the promoter of the race has promised that if need be they would pay the taxes.

On Monday Hermann Tilke, designer of the circuit, insisted the track will be ready in time and told there are no problems. “No, everything with the planning is on time. This is actually as it always is -- almost all of the new tracks are finished just in time. It will also be the case in India,” the German said. But he did admit some of the structures would not be finished, but denied it would jeopardize the venue, “It is safe to assume that certain parts of the infrastructure will still have something to do. But that's true of almost everywhere as well. I am very satisfied and I think the results speak for themselves.”

Buddh International Circuit
Buddh International Circuit

Photo by: Jaypee Sports International

Indian Team Lotus driver Karun Chandhok was also adamant there are no problems, “FIA happy, FOM happy and the track will be ready in time,” he reported on Twitter. Meanwhile FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone also thrown in his weight and today declared, “I don't think we can see anywhere in the world where there isn't a bit of uncertainty these days. I don't think there is the slightest bit of concern, though.”

He also rubbished the tax problems and hinted people don’t understand how the Indian tax system works, “I don't think people have understood the structure. People haven't quite understood the right way to go about it. It's all pretty clear, there is no real problem.” Ecclestone fiercely denied there are problems with the track itself, “Some super reports are coming in. All these new events are really a learning curve. We are making good progress on the track, and even if we had come in 2012, we would have been in the same position.”

Jaypee also denied local farmers have threatened to disturb the race, as they feel they didn’t get enough compensation when they lost their land to the venue. “This whole thing is a big joke,” a Jaypee representative claimed in the Bangkok Post. “People should not be taking these threats seriously. We have spent 400 million dollars and we will spend a few million more if needed to have adequate security in place. We will do whatever it takes to have a wonderful event,” he concluded his comments.

To make the event extra attractive for the Indians, Narain Kartikeyan and his compatriot Chandhok, will participate in the Indian Grand Prix for HRT and Team Lotus.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Rubens Barrichello , Jacques Villeneuve , Fernando Alonso , Martin Brundle , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Karun Chandhok , Sebastian Vettel , Bernie Ecclestone , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Team Lotus , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Brawn GP
Tags bouman, button, hamilton, indian gp, mass, mclaren