Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 1985 500SEC, 1991 190E 2.6.
Location: Los Angeles / Hannover Germany
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Why Barrichello is beating Button
Why Barrichello is beating Button
By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer
Brawn's one-two at the Italian Grand Prix has made the title race a private battle between Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello at the same time as the momentum within the team is riding firmly with the Brazilian.
Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are now effectively out of the reckoning. With four races to go they are not realistically going to take an average of seven points per race out of Button's lead.
The Englishman has a 14-point lead over his team-mate but although the mathematics are very much in Button's favour, and he now seems to have got over his tentative period, there can be no denying the Brazilian's current form.
Button happy with return to podium
Button was very much the dominant one of the pairing in the first half of the season, winning six races in a period when his team-mate won none, but Barrichello has been quicker since.
Championship pressure has almost certainly played its part with Jenson as he has sought to strike the appropriate balance between aggression and circumspection in a car that had lost its competitive advantage, leaving him to protect a points lead when in the middle of the pack.
But the swing in Barrichello's favour is about more than the differing psychological pressures of the hunter and the hunted. There are technical reasons too.
Quite aside from the mental demands, race driving is a bewilderingly complex blend of technique and technology and how well the two match up.
Formula 1 cars are constantly developing through the season, changing the driving characteristics, meaning constant adaptation for the driver.
There are also underlying traits in a car that may only be evident in some circumstances and not others and there will usually be a difference in how readily the driving styles of two drivers cope with this.
Rubens has a fantastic understanding of what makes a car work, better than any other driver I've seen, and quite often that has helped me
We've talked on this site this year already about the Brawn's struggle to generate the necessary tyre temperature whenever the track surface is a little cool.
Barrichello's driving style copes with this better than Button's. Rubens generally has a more adaptable, flexible approach than Button who needs very specific things from a car to perform to his best.
Button has a fantastic feel for how much momentum can be taken into a corner and this allows him to be minimal in his inputs - his steering and throttle movements in particular tend to be graceful and beautifully co-ordinated.
Barrichello is not quite as silky, tends to 'hustle' the car a little more, improvise with the controls to find whatever rhythm works. As such, he tends to induce more heat into the tyres.
On a cool day or on a track with a layout that does not ask too much from the tyres, that tends to put Barrichello in better shape than Button.
Ross Brawn talks to the team
Brawn thrilled with Monza one-two
There was a period from Silverstone through Germany and Hungary when the car just could not generate the necessary tyre temperature - and suddenly Barrichello became the quicker Brawn driver.
There was a ghost of that problem at Spa a couple of weeks ago, and again Button was more adversely affected than Barrichello, but generally tyre temperatures have not been an issue for Brawn recently.
There are other technical factors affecting the drivers' performance, too.
"I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year with the brakes," said Rubens, "but since we changed it at Silverstone I am a lot happier with it. We had developments on the car since then and the car has become better and better. I need to put it down to the braking that my performance has become a little bit better."
The material of the brake discs was changed mid-season, giving the brake pedal a different feel. Barrichello likes to quite decisively stand on the pedal immediately, Button prefers a more progressive building of pressure.
We're talking only nano-seconds of difference here but the way it affects the car's dynamics is significant.
The previous material could occasionally make the brakes a little 'snatchy' when using Barrichello's technique - and it was to do with how progressively the carbon-fibre disc heated up when the brakes were applied.
Button's smoother technique meant he had no problem with them. The material used since Silverstone reaches operating temperature more immediately, so allowing Barrichello's more aggressive technique to work.
But it is more complex even than that because although Button is more progressive in his initial application of the brake, he also tends to then press ultimately harder on the pedal.
This has implications on the car's set-up, as Button explained: "Because I'm using the pedal harder, when I try to run with his ride height, my car just grounds out, so I can't run that set-up."
A lower ride-height increases the car's aerodynamic performance and engineers will always strive to run the car as low as possible.
"Rubens has a fantastic understanding of what makes a car work, better than any other driver I've seen," conceded Button, "and quite often that has helped me.
Barrichello praises 'fantastic strategy'
"But I can look at his set-up sheet and I know which bits of it would not work for me. We each might pick and choose a little of what the other one is doing but basically I have to go my own way. If I just copied his set-up, he would be quicker. That's just the way it is."
At Monza there was virtually no difference between them. Barrichello squeezed ahead of Button on the grid by the margin of one-and-a-half hundredths of a second. But that one position starting difference is what translated to the one difference race position - and the difference between first and second.
Which brings us back on to psychological ground. With such a big points deficit, all Barrichello can do is attack; he has nothing to lose.
Button knows he can simply follow him home. So long as he is still taking points, he will be the world champion.
Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years. He is the award-winning author of several books.