VALENCIA, Spain — Formula One leader Jenson Button heads into the European Grand Prix wary of his car, while Ferrari’s Luca Badoer returns to the track after a decade for the injured Felipe Massa.
Button’s championship has been whittled from 26 points to 18.5 since winning six of the first seven races. Button has finished off the podium in the three since then, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber has moved up to second place in the standings.
“We can be strong again. This car is not bad, I just think we went slightly in the wrong direction,” the Brawn GP driver said Thursday. “We need to get back on top of it. I’ve got an 18.5 point lead, but that can disappear quite quickly.”
Button said updates were expected to improve the car. It wasn’t clear whether the changes would work because previous updates have not.
“We think we understand the car and the issues we have and we hope they will be solved at this race. But until you get on the circuit and test it, you never know,” Button said. “We have to try and stay on top of it because we need some good results and we have to stay on the podium. And it’s getting more competitive.”
Defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton comes into the port-side street circuit riding a competitive McLaren car that took him to his first victory of the season at Budapest. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was second after F1’s heavyweights had spent most of the season battling at the back of the grid.
Badoer, who has logged over 150,000 test kilometers with Ferrari in the 10 years since he last raced, was unfazed by the attention that came with stepping in for the injured Massa.
“I’m surprising myself because I’m very calm,” said the 38-year-old Badoer. “In a way I’m excited because it’s my dream — a driver with Ferrari in Formula One, for most of my life, that was my dream.”
Most drivers were disappointed that seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was unable to the replace Massa. Schumacher, who intended to drive for Massa, pulled out because of a previous neck injury.
“I’m sure everyone was really excited about Michael Schumacher racing again,” Button said. “But he can’t race, so we move on. We have a very competitive field regardless.”
Romain Grosjean has shrugged off the pressure in being the first Frenchman for 24 years to drive for Renault, saying he just wants to enjoy himself this weekend.
Renault named the 23-year-old Grosjean to replace the fired Nelson Piquet Jr. The Valencia race will involve the first French F1 driver at the wheel of a Renault since Patrick Tambay.
“That’s not an extra pressure, it’s the opposite way,” Grosjean said. “I want to write a good story with Renault and get to the top.”
Fernando Alonso is hopeful that Renault can provide him with a fast car at his second home race of the season, especially after the French team had a race ban lifted that allowed him to compete.
“The penalty was too hard on us,” said the two-time world champion, whose team allowed him to exit pit lane at Hungary with a loose wheel that eventually came off. “I was confident at the end everything was clear for us. In our heads, it was 100 percent racing in Valencia.”