Engine failure yards from flag for Honda star
Jenson Button must be wondering just what he has to do to change his luck - after enduring another dispiriting weekend in Australia.
It all started so well. After another dominant qualifying performance, Button claimed his first pole position of the season with a brilliant lap of 1m 25.229s, putting him ahead of the Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and championship leader Fernando Alonso.
His prospects seemed to improve further when Fisichella stalled on the grid and was relegated to starting the race from the pitlane. And as the red lights went out, Button managed a strong start and succeeded in holding his lead from a serious challenge from the determined Alonso.
But it was soon clear that Buttons Honda was less than happy running on cold tyres - and in a race with no fewer than four periods of running behind the safety car, that was quickly to become a critical issue.
The safety car made its first visit to the track after just four laps, when Christian Klien put his Red Bull into the wall with an enormous shunt. The Austrian was unhurt, but debris covered the track. At the restart, Button was blind-sided by Alonso, who judged it perfectly to sweep around the Honda on the way into the first turn. Shortly afterwards Kimi Raikkonen went through in a similarly imperious fashion, with Button clearly lacking the pace he needed to defend his position.
After the first wave of pitstops, Button was running in fifth place - with Michael Schumachers resurgent Ferrari closing on him at the rate of several seconds a lap. Fortunately, the Englishman was saved from having to battle the seven-times world champion when Schumacher ran wide at the exit to the final turn and destroyed his car in a spectacular accident opposite the pitlane - bringing the safety car out again in the process.
But by the closing stages of the race, Button was coming under increasing pressure from Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian had been complaining of understeer in his Renault, although after being told by his team to try harder (comments sent over the radio and broadcast around the world) his pace had increased noticeably - and he had Button in his sights.
With typical grit, Button set about the task of keeping Fisichella behind, and of salvaging the four points that would come to him for finishing in fifth. And, with the flag almost in sight, it looked like his defence had been successful. But cruel fate stepped in and, on the very last corner of the very last lap, Buttons engine let go spectacularly - flame and smoke billowing from the back of his stricken Honda. Fisichella shot past into a lucky fifth place - with the Honda team ordering Button to stop the car before crossing the line to avoid an engine change penalty in San Marino.
With 11 points against his name, Button is still in equal fourth place in the drivers championship - but he knows that his race performances will have to improve to match his phenomenal qualifying pace if hes to have a serious chance of making 2006 his breakthrough year as a serious contender.
Honda's only consolation was two points for Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian endured another difficult race, but came from 16th on the grid to claim an eventual seventh place.