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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jenson Button - Is it the McLaren, the tyres or him?

As a massive fan of Jenson I've found it distressing to watch him slide down the pecking order.  I'm sure it's not him because everyone knows his form has been consistent throughout his F1 career, even in the bad days of BAR Honda he could manage the car and the tyres and achieve the maximum return in a race (even though that return was relatively paltry). So what's the problem?  I was looking at a Formula 1 Blog story today which raised that question and one of the comments on that Negative Camber piece had a good go at explaining just what the problem might be.  I hand you over to Jack Flash (Aust):

"As a F1 fan following the sport since 1978, and a fan/pundit with hightened fascinations in the technical side of the sport, and being an engineer to boot; I offer the following observation on Jenson’s apparent plight this year.
Jenson has a very distinctive driving style. He drives very smoothly as we have all been told so many times over the years, but it is more than that. He takes a very different approach to corner entry/exit and maintaining apex speed over other drivers. He doesn’t attack the braking zones to corner entry at all like most others. A few other F1 pilots possess similar mid-to-exit cornering techniques to Jenson, but his style is the antithesis of a driver like Lewis Hamilton. These two drivers are polar opposites in constructing their lap-times.
So in years gone by, when the tyres had a wider operating temperature window, (less on the knife edge for wear sensitivity vs temperature cycling); and previously when keeping tyre temperatures a little lower provided a benefit of tyre durability without performance loss; Jenson had a definite advantage in his driving style. Longer stints. If the race could strategically benefit from longer tyre stints at pace; Jenson’s style enabled him to do that.
However in F1 2012, it is all different. The Pirelli’s are finickey (very narrrow) in the temperature range they require to “switch on” performance, and if you get above the temp range – you permanently injure them (or worst case shred their life), and if you run them too cold they don’t turn on grip and they slip around and ‘grain up’; thus they get even slipperier and colder and grain even worse (they are slow and soapy). A slippery slope. It is almost impossible to retrieve the tyres from this cold slide. Jenson’s style pushes him onto the ‘too cold’ side. This is why Jenson and McLaren engineers have been trying different brake materials on his car to try an BUY more heat to radiate into the rims/tyres. Couple this to the noticeable drop in overall downforce levels – post FIA’s Blown Diffusser bans, and the double whammy is set in place.
If Jenson could drive in a typical Lewis Hamilton manner in the braking zones and corner entry, he possibly could get on top of keeping the 2012 Pirellis up to temp and manage their temp/wear from there. But this leopard Jenson Button just can’t change his spots that much.
McLaren should possibly install a Butane/Propane burners in his wheel rim spaces…. A steering wheel button for flaming fronts, and a button for flaming rears. Activated when the low-temperature light-array on his wheel warn him his tyres are entering a “Ice Age” again. (of course I’m taking the piss here…) Jack Flash."

I think it's an excellent analytical piece which sets out why Jense may not be able to manage the tyres in his usually, highly competent way.  Fingers crossed that, if Jack Flash is right, McLaren can find a solution for Button's sake and for all his fans.

While I asked for Jack Flashes agreement to the use of his comment I have not had a reply to date.  If he requests it I'll have to remove his comment but will retain the link to F1B for you to go and see it for yourselves.