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Button: a suntan through your race suit 18 Mar 2005

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, 17 March 2005

The heat is on for BAR, but Button is keeping cool...

It is billed as the ‘hottest race of the year’, and all of the drivers have been doing their own type of training to get themselves used to Kuala Lumpur's extreme levels of heat and humidity.

Christian Klien and Tonio Liuzzi for Red Bull, for example, have been playing tennis in their driving suits. Yesterday Jenson Button gave some graphic indications of just why they all view the Malaysian Grand Prix as their toughest physical challenge of the season.

“I spent some time after Melbourne in Brunei and that was good. It was exactly the same temperature as it is here, and very humid, so that’s probably the best way to train, just spending time outside and getting used to the humidity. You really do feel it here. It’s the only circuit where you can feel the hot air coming into your helmet. You find it very difficult to breathe, and you have to get used to that.

“It’s the only circuit where you feel you could be getting a suntan through your driving suit. You can feel the sun on your suit, it’s a really strange feeling.

“Normally on the straights you usually get your composure back and get nice and relaxed for the next corner, whereas here you are just heavy breathing everywhere because of the hot air. You can hear your breathing and are conscious of trying to stay as relaxed as possible. I’ll drink a litre and a half of liquid during the course of a race here. I lost my water bottle once, I think it was last year or the year before, and I got so dehydrated because I didn’t get any water that I sweated and got wet and started shivering for the last 20 laps. Your vision starts to go after that, with the dehydration. It’s the toughest circuit, physically, because of the temperature and the humidity, and I’m glad, because compared to a lot of the drivers I’m fitter and can cope with those conditions better. Not just from training more, but from the way some people are built. I don’t sweat much, youth helps, low fat!

“The trouble with a drink onboard is keeping it cold. It’s like drinking tea after three laps. You get past the cool bit and it’s like drinking boiling water. Not that nice!”

However, Button believes that the race should be easier than last year’s because of the new rules regarding engine and tyre life. In the past it has been a series of flat-out driving stints in between pit stops. This year there are likely to be two stops, but between them drivers will be adjusting their styles and doing everything then can, having set their cars up as carefully as possible in practice, to minimise rear tyre wear. The moment a car starts oversteering too much and blistering its rear tyres, the driver must slow down to get the situation under control again before he can start pushing hard again. Besides personal survival, they will all be fighting to preserve their tyres on this abrasive and demanding track.

“Tyre wear is where all the time is lost,” Button explains. “You lose traction, your stability at high speed, the braking stability. You save the rears through careful set-up work, and there are so many things a driver can do, changing his style and adapting to the difference balance of the car.”

While Button believes that having a fresh engine for this weekend will be a major help in the trying conditions, he is not expecting any miracles after BAR’s disappointing result in Australia.

“Compared to McLaren and Renault we are probably down at the moment. We wouldn’t have been up on the podium if we’d had a clear run, but even so being stuck behind Jacques didn’t help our chances of a good race. But when I got into clear air our pace wasn’t too bad, we were around the same lap times as the Williams, little bit slower than the McLarens and the Renaults. So it’s not as bad as it looks, but we still need to improve. The balance of the car is okay, but we are lacking in aerodynamics, and therefore grip, compared to the top teams. But here should suit us quite well, which will help.

“We understand the car better and we have some aerodynamic tweaks here, things to test, so we’ll see where we stand. I think we’ll be strong here, a lot closer to the front. We had a few other issues in Melbourne, because of the cold conditions.

“The thing is that there are so many competitive cars. Renault and McLaren are very strong, and Ferrari. Williams are about our pace, I think. The Red Bulls were strong in Melbourne, but we’ll have to wait and see how they do here. I think it’s going to very competitive here, but if we get the strategy right which I’m sure we will there’s a good chance we can be fighting for a top five position. But definitely not for a podium.”

Melbourne winner and championship leader Giancarlo Fisichella is feeling quietly confident. “We know that we have a very good car and engine package and our work so far with Michelin has been very rewarding. We have only one plan this weekend, and that is to fight for the win.”