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Going The Distance

Brawn and Red Bull have lead the way in F1 so far this season, and that’s not likely to change according to James Walker-Roberts

So here we are - at the halfway stage of the Formula 1 season - and not a rosy red Ferrari nor shining silver McLaren in sight. Indeed, the two constructors who have almost monopolised the sport in recent times have only scraped together around a third of the points that runaway leaders Brawn have managed. The surprise package of the F1 season, Jenson Button, might not have got the podium finish he so craved at his home circuit of Silverstone, but he stayed among the top six and now heads into the second-half of the campaign clear of the chasing pack.

That is not to say that there is no competition though, for while the crown is slipping further from Lewis Hamilton’s head with each passing race, the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Button’s own team-mate Rubens Barrichello are not about to give up without a fight. In fact, of all the likely contenders for the drivers’ championship this year, the young German Vettel looks the most threatening after some impressive driving so far.

It is unlikely that those prevalent at the top last year such as Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will be troubling the top spots too much this time though, as paltry recent odds of 1/5 and 2/9 respectively on the two Ferrari’s failing to win a race this season illustrated. Such prices reflect not only the underwhelming seasons of both the Brazilian and the Finn so far, but also the sheer dominance of the smaller teams like Brawn and Red Bull at the head of the field.

It is indeed they who should be competing for the podium spots in upcoming races, and despite Jenson Button’s belief that “the advantage is not as big as it looks” after getting trounced at Silverstone by Vettel, the Englishman will have to back up his words on the track.

One factor that should work in Button and Brawn’s favour is the summer weather, with their white bodywork and tyres expected to work better in hotter conditions. After Silverstone, the English driver was only half-joking when he said “just pray for hot weather”. As such, Button may go into the European Grand Prix in Valencia (Aug 21-23) as the favourite and if he has a good qualifying session, then he will be tough to beat. However, the circuit saw just three retirements last season, so if everyone gets around the first corner he could have plenty of competition behind him.

Barrichello, Vettel and Webber should all be guaranteed contenders too, while as far as outsiders go, Williams’ Nico Rosberg and Toyota’s Jarno Trulli could well be worth a look – though it is hard to see them topping the podium above Brawn and Red Bull’s drivers.

Unless Vettel or Barrichello can hit Button hard – metaphorically speaking, of course – in the points department over the next few races, then it is hard to see them wresting the title from his grasp. Of course, one can only speculate how well Button will deal with the pressure of holding onto the lead over the final few races, but such is the quality of his car that he should be finishing in the points even if he himself is not at his best.

Hopefully whatever the order on the podium, the European Grand Prix will prove to be more of a spectacle than the procession it was last year, where overtaking was nearly impossible on the tight street circuit. On that occasion, it was Felipe Massa who came out on top, and the Ferraris are notoriously good on tracks like Monaco and Valencia where turning is tight and there is not much room for manoeuvre.

With that in mind, if one is inclined to back either of the red machines in Spain this year, it might be worth looking at Massa again as his team-mate Raikkonen has struggled immensely this season – possibly owing to too much vodka consumption if the words of Mark Webber are to be believed. The Australian himself should be a danger on the street circuit in Valencia, and while there is nearly a month off between Hungary and this race, giving teams like McLaren and Ferrari plenty of time to improve, Button and Brawn should still lead the way.

Vettel certainly looks as though he will challenge at the top of the leader board, but he may well have to settle for second or third as Brawn and Button continue their surprising and unrelenting dominance of this Formula 1 campaign.
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