Can Jenson do it in Japan?

Another superb second place for Jenson Button in China helped BAR's challenge in its battle with Renault, and also set the team up nicely for its next outing on Honda's home ground in Suzuka. Adam Cooper looks at the Brit's latest starring role

Can Jenson do it in Japan?

China was a huge race for BAR and its partners, and that was obvious when you took a stroll around downtown Shanghai. More than any other F1 sponsor, BAT had made an effort to raise its profile downtown, with show cars on display and bars and restaurants using large BAR umbrellas. Local restrictions on cigarette advertising didn't help, as did the fact that the company was trying to promote 555 rather than the usual Lucky Strike, a brand that is not sold in China. The cars themselves looked a bit of a compromise, with 555 stickers slapped onto the usual

After all the fuss the team was relieved that Jenson Button figured so strongly in the race, and was able to mount the podium and thus give his one-off blue overalls a very public airing. At one stage it looked like he might even make the top step for the first time, but in the end his two-stop strategy didn't allow him to leapfrog Rubens Barrichello. But he had fun trying.

"We didn't make it easy for ourselves," he said. "The start and the first lap were not what we wanted, I lost two places. It's been like that for a couple of races now, so we've got to sort that problem out. But after that, we had a pretty good race. Two stops worked reasonably well for us, and we thought we had him up to my second stop. But the car was just so heavy I couldn't really push hard."

We reported in Saturday Night Fever that Jenson was likely to go for two stops, and that proved to be the case. He says that there were good reasons for making the choice.

"We thought it was going to be quicker, especially with the pit lane. It's pretty slippery in the pit box area, it's very dusty, so we were worried about locking and losing a lot of time. For us it was the best strategy to do. I don't think we were as quick as the Ferraris, so it probably was the best option for us."

Was he surprised that others went for three?

"A little bit. I didn't expect Kimi to, although I thought maybe Rubens would, because of their tyre situation. I was very surprised about Kimi, because our tyres were working very well on long runs. I think it would have been very close with Kimi when he came out of the pits, if he'd kept the same strategy. But that's the way it happens. To get second is great for us and not so great for Kimi."

Ultimately the difference in strategy got him ahead of Raikkonen, but it didn't move him in front of Barrichello. With a much lighter load, and able to push his tyres to the limits, Rubens put in a particularly strong third stint. He opened up a big enough lead to ensure that he could make his final stop and still emerge in front of the BAR.

"When the gap started getting bigger by about one and a half seconds a lap, I thought we might be in trouble then! When it got to 27 seconds on the pit board I thought I'm going to push as hard as I can, but it's going to be very difficult to be in front when Rubens comes out of the pits."

Fuel weight is of course paramount to any strategic decisions. Sometimes teams and drivers are a little optimistic, and only in the heat of battle do they discover how difficult a task they've saddled themselves with. A heavier car is always a handful, and that's what cost Jenson in China.

"There's a lot more movement on the suspension, especially in high speed corners. The car is hitting the ground a lot more. It's pretty tough, and when you've got to push hard, it just gets worse and worse. If you have a moment it's a bigger moment than what it would have been before. It's tough, but it's the way we wanted to go. And we're used to that, we do run with high fuel in testing."

Rubens may have been out of reach, but Jenson also had his work cut out keeping Raikkonen behind. It made the last section of the race more entertaining, especially when Barrichello backed off and allowed them both to catch up.

"I knew that Kimi would find it very difficult to overtake, because the car was very good. I had a pretty good line onto the back straight, so I knew he wouldn't get me there. Apart from there the car was working well in other places as well. It was going to be difficult for him, but you get a little bit worried when there's a car catching you at half a second a lap. But I also had to think about catching Rubens. It was a very exciting last eight laps, and very enjoyable for all of us.

"I always push very hard towards the end, but I had to push 100% to try and keep Kimi behind. It's also a circuit where you don't breathe for about 20 seconds, because you've got the left, you've got the right, the quick two corners and the two lefts. After that, you're breathing pretty heavily! It was a tough race, but it was great to get home on the podium. I thought we had the chance of a win, and when I was at the end of my second stint I was putting in some good lap times. But it didn't come off."

Incredibly, this was Jenson's ninth podium finish of the year. And who would have predicted that before the start of the season?

"I like that! Nine is not too bad. I'm reasonably happy. We struggled at the start, which lost us some time and a few places. That hampered our race a little bit. But to be in with a chance of winning again was fantastic. We're not as fast as Ferrari, and to be that close at the end, I'm pretty happy with it."

With sixth-placed Sato's support, Jenson moved BAR further ahead of Renault in the battle for second in the championship.

"We've got five more points on them, which is great. I am happy for the team. They did a great job, as we have done all year. In the next two races we'll push just as hard to win a race, but it's a little bit more comfortable now."

Suzuka is next, and it's another big weekend for BAR and Honda, for obvious reasons. Inevitably Sato will be the focus of attention, but even last year it was already apparent that Japanese fans were beginning to take a serious interest in Jenson. After a year like he's enjoyed, his popularity can only have increased. It would be the perfect place to nail that elusive first win, although the man himself thinks that his car might be better in Brazil.

"We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a huge race for us, having Honda in the team. It's going to be a busy weekend for the whole team, and also Takuma. He's going to be the busiest little man you've ever seen, so it will be quite relaxed for me!"

Jenson says he enjoys spending time in the country, which is just as well, as he'll be part of a big PR push in Tokyo in the week before the race.

"I'm a big fan of Japanese food, definitely! Sushi is something I eat pretty much every other day. I've really enjoyed my time in Tokyo - great restaurants and bars and great hotels. It's a great place to see. Suzuka is very different to Tokyo, very quiet and really out in the sticks. But it's still a special feeling, and there's a lot of history there as well."

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