“So that’s the way we’re racing now, is it?” Race victor Jenson Button’s remark to newly crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel as they towelled down before appearing on the podium after the Japanese Grand Prix was revealing. Not least because Vettel, in a career in which he has become regarded as ‘Mr Nice Guy’, has never been guilty of cynical gamesmanship against his rivals.
Certainly, he crashed into Webber behind the Safety Car in Japan back in 2007, but that was a lapse rather than a deliberately pushy manoeuvre. And he came together with Webber in Turkey last year, but everyone blamed that one on the Australian. However, though it was cleared by the stewards, Vettel’s move against Button, when he forced the Briton onto the grass at the start in Suzuka, was as uncompromising as Michael Schumacher at his peak. And there I was thinking that Seb’s professed admiration for his older countryman was simply PR speak!
Don’t get me wrong, I know that Formula One isn’t for sissies, and I would have expected the Suzuka panel - with hard-nosed Aussie world champion Alan Jones on its strength - to clear Vettel of any technical infringement. But I would somehow also have expected Seb to have given the faster starting Button more room in that run down to the first corner. In the end there was no harm done as far as Button was concerned, thanks to quick evasive action and a cool head that allowed him to rebuild his race and come through to win.
What it goes to show of course is that you don’t become a winner, or a world champion, without a measure of arrogant bloody mindedness. After all, despite the appreciation expressed to the team, only one person wins the race, only one person becomes world champion. And that means you have to know you’re the best and have the resolve to crush the opposition. Without that, you could never be a winner.
Though Vettel was already all but mathematically assured of the title before Suzuka, he obviously wanted to drive the message home with a decisive victory in the clincher. And one sensed a tinge of disappointment in his expression and body language as he mounted the podium and faced the press after his third-place finish in Japan.
Sure, he was world champion for the second year in a row, the youngest driver to have achieved the double. But the anthem being played on the podium was for Jenson Button, and the largest ‘jug’ was his. A slightly bitter pill to swallow, that, even though you’ve just been crowned 'king of the world'.
- John Bentley