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This year’s capricious and unpredictable Formula One season has taught us not to take anything for granted, and so it was again in Belgium last weekend when seemingly down-and-out Jenson Button emerged from the ashes as a possible championship contender.
Perhaps it was the talk of him possibly having to adopt a supporting role to team mate Lewis Hamilton’s championship bid that did it, but whatever lit a fire under Button last weekend, the Brit was imperiously dominant in qualifying and the race. The McLaren driver’s victory, after an extended mid-season slump, moved him up to 101 points, just 16 behind Hamilton and a still-catchable 63 adrift of championship leader Fernando Alonso with a maximum of 200 still up for grabs in the remainder of the season.
Heading into this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Alonso has 164 points, Sebastian Vettel 140, his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber 132, Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen 131, and Hamilton 117 with eight races left in the year.
Button’s pole position helped him escape the carnage caused when Sebastian Grosjean turned his Lotus into a wrecking ball that took out four cars in the first corner including himself, Hamilton, Sauber’s Sergio Perez, and Ferrari’s Alonso. After that Button’s McLaren cruised unchallenged into the distance, although the dogfight for the remaining podium placings made Spa-Francorchamps, one of the drivers’ and fans’ favourite venues, one of the best Grands Prix of the year.
Demonstrating that starting up front at the high-speed track isn’t as vital as it is on tighter circuits, world champion Vettel charged from a lowly 11th on the grid to finish second in his Red Bull. Doubts over the German’s overtaking ability have long since been put to rest, but the way he thrust and parried his way through the field on Sunday, in what is no longer the best car, was one of the double champion’s most inspired performances.
It leaves him trailing Alonso by just 24 points in the title hunt, and full of confidence heading to a circuit where he has a happy history (he won at Monza last year and also clinched his first F1 victory there in 2008 driving a Toro Rosso).
Raikkonen finished third in Belgium to record his sixth podium of the season and keep himself well in championship contention, but the Lotus driver is the only one of the top seven drivers without a victory this year and the Iceman is clearly hankering for that elusive first win since his comeback.
His team mate Grosjean, fast gaining a reputation as a crash king after several carbon-fibre-crunching incidents this season, earned himself a ban from this Sunday’s Italian race for his first-corner Belgium antics. His seat will be filled by Lotus test driver Jerome d’Ambrosio.
In competition with Grosjean for crash king status is Williams’ Pastor Maldonado, who has been slapped with a ten-place grid penalty for Monza after making a false start and then crashing with Marussia’s Timo Glock.
The Venezuelan driver has collected more punishments than any other driver this season and started Sunday’s race with a three-place penalty for impeding Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India in qualifying.
Alonso’s remarkable run of finishing 23 consecutive races came to a spectacular end in last Sunday’s first-corner crash, an incident which has thrown the sport into a safety panic. Grosjean’s flying Lotus missed Alonso’s head by centimetres, which has authorities re-looking at the possibility of introducing closed cockpits, possibly by as early as 2014.
Fighter jet-style canopies have apparently been rejected in favour of a forward roll-hoop design to try and prevent what happened to Ferrari’s Felipe Massa at the 2009 Hungarian GP, when he was knocked unconscious by debris and suffered a fractured skull. - Star Motoring