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Button relishes Monaco challenge
Alan Baldwin | May 17, 2004 14:23 IST
BAR's Jenson Button believes he could be a Monaco winner next weekend, a year on from the biggest crash of his Formula One career.
"My confidence is sky-high going into Monaco, probably very different to what people think," the 24-year-old Briton told Reuters.
"I think it will be a very good race for us."
He had been third fastest in Thursday's first qualifying and a first career podium had looked very much on the cards.
On Sunday, he races there again after having collected three podiums, including pole position and second place at the San Marino Grand Prix, from the last five races.
The target now is a first victory to prevent Ferrari's six-times world champion Michael Schumacher notching up six in succession.
Honda-powered BAR are the team giving Ferrari the biggest headache and Button is their standard-bearer.
"The only thing I think about from last year is how quick we were, and we didn't have a car that was anywhere near as good as this car, so I'm very confident," he said.
"I can't wait. I've said to the team that's the race I'm really looking forward to...it would be very emotional getting on the podium and winning obviously would be fantastic."
Button, a Monaco resident, finished eighth in the last race in Spain after messing up his qualifying lap and starting 14th while Japanese team mate Takuma Sato took fifth place.
The Briton has always had a special affinity for Silverstone, his home Grand Prix, but Monaco is the big one for him this year.
"I'd love to win any Grand Prix but Monaco more than Silverstone because of what happened there last year really," he said. "That's the reason why I'd want to win there this year."
Monaco is unlike any other Grand Prix, its tight streets and unforgiving barriers likened by some to the challenge of riding a bicycle around a living room.
Some drivers love it while others loathe it and Button is firmly in the first group.
"I've got lots of memories of last year," he said. "It was a great race weekend for me...It was the first year I've really got to grips with the circuit because it is quite a difficult circuit to learn.
"I really do like Monaco, I really do enjoy driving around there," he said.
"It is a crazy circuit, the barriers are so high and the circuit feels so narrow and it's very bumpy and all the corners are blind. It's a real buzz driving around there."
Button has matured since his first season at BAR with Canadian former champion Jacques Villeneuve in 2003.
He is now the clear team leader, increasingly demanding and outspoken about what he wants and revelling in the responsibility.
"I feel a lot more confident in the team and also the car and I think that I'm working much better in the cockpit and a lot better outside," he said.
Button admitted that in his early days with Williams, Benetton and then Renault he had been too passive, too fearful that the team would think he was just a whinger.
Now he wants to be the biggest whinger of them all.
"I've realised that you really do have to push them," he said. "It's they way it's got to be. Even if there's nothing wrong I still push the team and Honda and they really like it. They love being pushed, especially Honda."
Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn says he now sees traits emerging in Button, a man likely to be on Ferrari's list when Schumacher retires, similar to those displayed by the German.
"I think Michael's set a very good standard for all Formula One drivers and I think the intelligent drivers see the sort of things that Michael's doing and they learn from it," said Brawn.
"And I can see in Jenson that he's learned a lot about Michael, the fitness, the application, the testing," he added.
"Michael's set a new standard and I think that guys like Jenson can see that and are trying to match it or maybe even do better."
If he stops Schumacher winning in Monaco for a record-equalling sixth time this weekend, Button will be very definitely the real deal.
Three-times world champion Jackie Stewart is one who believes the Briton can do it.
"He has come of age," said the Scot, himself a winner three times in Monaco. "The team's come right, the car's come right, Jenson's come right -- all at the same time.
"There's lots of people who could win Monaco. Monaco is not the most difficult motor race to win, if you make a good qualifying time and no mistakes.
"But you've got to be gentle with the car.
"Well, there's not much wrong with the car and there's not much wrong with Jenson Button's driving. So if all of those things fit into place then of course he can win Monaco."
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