Jenson Button says this year’s F1 title will go down to the wire, with the driver who is coolest under pressure the winner.
With five races to go just 24 points, less than for a race victory these days, separates the top five drivers in the standings – Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel.
It is the sport’s tightest scrap since 1981 when Nelson Piquet came out on top in another five-way fight ahead of Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite and Alain Prost, the quintet covered by a mere seven points.
Button is convinced with the way this season’s battle has ebbed and flowed, he cannot see any of the five – including himself – doing enough to clinch the crown before the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“You can’t help but look at the drivers’ championship table and just think ‘Wow, how can it be so close?’” said Button.
“It’s funny, after Spa everyone was saying it was a two-horse race between Lewis and Mark, but I can easily see this championship going right down to the last race.
“I think we’ve seen that no one driver’s going to walk away with the world title, that there’s going to be a fight right to the very end.”
Determining the deciding factors as to who will emerge as champion, Button added: “Consistency is important in some ways.
“Obviously you need a car that will get you to the finish of every grand prix, and you don’t want to start making knee-jerk or radical decisions on set-up or strategy because you think it might give you an advantage.
“We’re racers, so we’ll always be racing, but the pressure’s now on all of us.
“None of us can afford another non-finish or a mistake, and the guy who cracks least will be world champion.”
In taking the world title last season, Button learned considerably along the way, knowing that will stand him in good stead this year.
The 30-year-old knows there will be times when he perhaps needs to exercise patience, and others, such as when he clinched the title in Brazil, when it becomes all or nothing.
“I think you have to take each race as it comes,” added Button.
“I think that driving just to score a certain number of points isn’t in a racing driver’s psyche.
“I felt that a little last year. I knew I only had to keep scoring consistently to take the title, but that was probably more mentally taxing than just putting your head down and going for it.
“For instance, at Interlagos last year, I had nothing to really lose. I was 14th on the grid and my team-mate was on pole.
“What did I have to gain by driving steadily and taking home a handful of points?
“I just went for it, and that was a really liberating race for me, and an experience that will be useful this year too.”
Lewis Hamilton won an expectedly chaotic Belgian Grand Prix whilst behind him three of his title rivals failed to score a point.
It was McLaren star Hamilton’s third win of the year and he is now three points clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber who finished 1.5secs adrift of the Briton as the 44-lap race ended in wet conditions.
Renault’s Robert Kubica was third with Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil, Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov and Jaime Alguersuari completing the top 10.
Hamilton is now 31 points clear of Sebastian Vettel who was down in a lowly 15th as the German incurred a drive-through penalty after crashing into Jenson Button who was sent into retirement.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso also spun out late on, the Spaniard now 41 points adrift of Hamilton.
A beaming Hamilton said: “It was a great weekend, a very tough race for me, the same for everyone.
“I was praying it would be a race that would go smoothly, but then the rain came late on and I locked my wheels at turn eight, but thankfully I got away with it.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but fortunately I got round and changed the tyres – it was probably the best one this year.
“Again fortunately it didn’t rain any more, and in the end it was about nursing the car home, making sure it stayed in one piece and bagging the points.
“I’m very proud of the job the team did, and I’m so glad to be here.”
Explaining his abysmal start, Webber said: “I had a big bump on the formation lap, and although we altered the clutch, it was worse at the start.
“Once you have a micro-problem there it’s massively exaggerated by the performance of the other guys.
“After that it was a pretty mixed-up race, so I’m happy with second in the end.
“To have the top-three qualifiers on the podium after a race like that you could never have predicted, although the top two is the wrong way round for me.”
After his third podium of the season, but ultimately losing second spot, Kubica said: “I was distracted by changing settings ahead of changing tyres.
“I lost second place, and that’s racing. It’s one mistake that cost one position, but still it’s been a great weekend for us and I hope to continue in this way.”
After the capricious weather of the previous two days, the race began in dry conditions, albeit under gloomy skies.
From pole, Webber’s clutch issue led to his woeful start as he crawled away from the line.
That allowed six cars behind him to pass, relegating the prior championship leader to seventh within seconds of the five red lights disappearing.
Team principal Christian Horner had predicted Hamilton’s 40 extra horsepower in his Mercedes engine would see him move clear of Webber up the hill on lap one.
Horner, though, surely never expected Hamilton to be ahead before the first corner La Source hairpin, but that was the case, and he was followed by Kubica and Button.
Just before the start imminent rain had been forecast at some point. It arrived earlier than anticipated, even before the first lap had been completed, and solely over the bus stop chicane just before the entry to the pit lane.
It caught out several drivers, with Rubens Barrichello’s historic 300th Grand Prix ending in retirement as he spun in his Williams and was hit by Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari.
Button then swiftly passed Kubica at the start of lap two to make it a McLaren one-two at that stage and for the first 16 laps.
That was until he was sent crashing out by Vettel who had been on the Briton’s tail until finally getting a tow sweeping through the left-hand curve of Blanchimont.
But with what appeared to be a few spots of rain at that corner, Vettel misjudged his braking, sending his car skewing one way and then the other before spearing into the radiator on the left-hand side of Button’s car.
That immediately sent Button into retirement, and although Vettel was able to return to the pits for a new nose and fresh rubber, the stewards took a dim view and handed him a drive-through penalty.
It was Vettel’s second in successive races after serving one in the last race in Hungary for a safety car infringement.
After making his way through the pit lane and dropping to 14th, the German was then involved in a second incident at the same chicane on lap 26.
This time, after making his way past Vitantonio Liuzzi, he ran over the front wing of the Force India, sustaining a puncture to his left-rear tyre.
That forced Vettel to coast around the seven-kilometre circuit on three wheels before pitting again, relegating him to 20th and last but one of those still running at that stage.
With 10 laps remaining Hamilton was comfortably leading from Kubica and Webber, and then a heavier rain shower arrived.
With his team preaching caution before pitting, Hamilton made his only mistake of the day in running wide at Rivage, trundling over the gravel and just avoiding clipping a barrier.
That incident was enough to ensure he pitted, narrowly ahead of Kubica and Webber, the Australian jumping the Pole due to his lack of concentration that saw him just avoid running over one of his pit crew.
As the rain grew heavier, five laps from home Alonso spun on the short straight between Les Combes and Rivage, twice hitting a barrier and braking his front-right suspension.
With his car left stranded in the middle of the track, there was no choice but to send out the safety car for the second time to retrieve the stricken Ferrari.
After two laps it returned to the garage, leaving Hamilton with four tricky laps to negotiate, doing so expertly to narrowly edge ahead of Webber with six races remaining.
Button dropped out of the race after just three laps because a bung was left in the left sidepod of his McLaren as he drove to the grid, preventing fresh air getting to its radiators. As a result he lost his lead in the drivers’ standings and dropped eight points behind the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.