Schu again, but Button sparkles

by RAY MATTS, Daily Mail

Last updated at 15:22 05 April 2004

It may have been a special non-alcoholic concoction with which Michael Schumacher celebrated his third successive victory of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, so as not to offend the locals.

But in the privacy of the British American Racing team's garage yesterday they toasted Jenson Button's second successive podium finish with the genuine article.

It was appropriate, because the 24-year-old Englishman is proving to be the real thing - a true world championship contender.

Perhaps not this season, which promises to deliver a seventh title to the amazing Schumacher in his remarkably consistent scarlet chariot, but certainly at some time in the not-too-distant future.

Consistent performer

Button demonstrated that the third place he achieved in the oppressive heat of Malaysia was no fluke as he repeated the result here with a flawless drive around the £100million Sakhir motor-racing oasis in the middle of the desert.

He said: "It is fantastic to be on the podium again so soon. We're only a young, developing team and still learning. But we have set standards and it looks like being a very exciting season for us."

Button stands third in the embryonic title chase and has helped his team to share equal third among the manufacturers. The preliminary results are most impressive.

Yet it is off the track, as much as on it, where the young man from Frome in Somerset is proving he has the extra quality which champions are made of: dedication above and beyond the call of duty and a willingness to spend as many hours as it takes to get the job done.

His father revealed that even as he and Jenson were driving to the circuit at 7am - seven-and-a-half hours before the race was due to start - his son was on his mobile phone chatting away to mechanics on ideas that might give him a competitive edge.

After the subsequent bear-hugs and congratulations had been completed, a proud John Button said: "That is just one example of how Jenson is maturing and growing into the role of being the team leader. It is the sort of dedication for which Schumacher is renowned and which he realises is now expected of him at BAR."

Boss sings Button's praises

BAR boss David Richards sung the praises of his young star, saying: "Thanks to Jenson we have shown that our strong performance in Malaysia was no fluke.

"I put my cards on the table before a wheel was turned, saying that I believed in Jenson and the team's ability to deliver. I was not afraid to stand up and be counted and they are proving my confidence to be well placed.

"Jenson's two podium places have given us momentum, a surge of spirit and encouragement to achieve even more - although no-one is getting carried away and thinking we've got it made.

"What we do have is self-belief. These satisfying early results rub off both on the track team and those people back at our Brackley factory. It's a lovely feeling."

Better, in some ways, than at Ferrari, whose clean sweep of Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello was almost expected, given their now famous reliability.

Button and BAR, for whom Takuma Sato finished fifth, provided the race's silver lining following a desert storm of high winds and spots of rain that seemed to blow the scarlet cars into a lead at the first corner and made them impregnable.

Schumacher's dominance

It was a cruise for Schumacher, an easy touch for his Brazilian team-mate and a massive disappointment for Juan Pablo Montoya, who fell away to 13th with gearbox problems after running third for most of the race.

Surprisingly, after the problems encountered in practice and qualifying, there were few casualties on the new, high-speed circuit.

Not much happened at the front of the field but there were some exciting tussles down the order involving Sato, who had a collision with Ralf Schumacher that ruined the Williams-BMW driver's race, and exciting Spaniard Fernando Alonso in his Renault.

Button recovered from a poor start, in which he dropped back to eighth, to pick his way through the field. Following a front wing adjustment and a superb second pit-stop he was in fourth and ready to put the pressure on Montoya.

It was a day to forget for McLaren-Mercedes pair David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen.

Coulthard was in the points until a pneumatic system fault in his engine brought him to a halt after 50 laps, but Raikkonen's race finished early with a dramatic blaze from a broken engine. The Finn has not finished once this season and his title bid is virtually over already.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now