Beleaguered Button needs to get back on track
Jenson Button will have left Belgium a relieved man on Sunday night after he yet again escaped from a poor weekend with minimal damage to his championship lead.
Instead, Button's team-mate Barrichello - who had qualified 10 places further up the grid - clawed back only two points. The Brazilian is now 16 points behind Button with a maximum of 50 still available.
And while Vettel finished third, that served only to leapfrog him ahead of Webber into third place in the championship - still 19 points off the lead. Webber, whose hopes of a strong finish were hit by a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from a pit stop, finished ninth, out of the points.
For Button, it could have been so much worse.
He was always going to have a retirement at some point or another this season, and it came on the first lap at Spa as he was tipped into a spin by Renault new-boy Romain Grosjean. As Button himself pointed out, if you qualify that far down, you are always more likely to get caught up in trouble.
By then, though, Button had already received some good news. Barrichello - who was starting fourth, 10 places ahead of Button - had crawled off the grid and was down to 15th by the end of the first lap. From there, he did well to score some points.
But hot on the heels of Button's relief that his rivals seem incapable of capitalising on his problems, there will nevertheless be a deep concern that the wheels are coming off his title challenge and that he appears to be able to do nothing about it.
Button's six wins in seven races at the start of the season seem a very long time ago. Spa was the fifth consecutive race in which Button failed to finish on the podium. And, with the exception of the European Grand Prix at Valencia the previous weekend, the Brawn car has been off the pace of the leaders at all of them.
It is no more than good fortune that in that time not one of Barrichello, Vettel and Webber has put together a concerted assault on his lead. Rather, they appear to still be scrapping for primacy among themselves.
Sooner or later, though, that will surely change unless Button can find his form, and right now that looks like a distant prospect.
Button had his fifth poor race in a row in Belgium at the weekend
Team boss Ross Brawn said after the Belgian race that he was optimistic the cars would be quick at the next event, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza - the track demands good braking and traction, which are strong points of the Brawn car.
Whether that would necessarily mean a return to the front for Button is another matter. Brawn were on the pace in Valencia, after all, but Button finished only seventh there while Barrichello won.
The reasons for the 29-year-old's slump are complex and multi-faceted.
Prime among them, it seems, is the way the Brawn car works its tyres. It is very gentle on them, which was an advantage at some of the early-season races, but has been anything but more recently.
After winning the Turkish Grand Prix on 7 June, Button struggled in Britain and Germany where, in the cool temperatures, his car could not heat up its tyres enough to get them into their operating range, causing a catastrophic lack of grip.
Brawn were expecting things to go better in Hungary, where it was hotter, but they again suffered the same problems and by now there were the first signs that the frustration was getting to Button. "How," he was heard saying on the radio during the race, "can this car be so bad at the moment?"
After that race, Ross Brawn admitted that the team might have lost its way and promised an investigation. They arrived for the next race in Valencia hoping they had found the solution. But while the hot conditions in Spain meant they had no problems with their tyres, they have re-emerged in Spa again this weekend.
Button is affected more by this phenomenon than Barrichello because his silky driving style is easier on the tyres.
Button's failure to join his team-mate at the front in Valencia, though, was nothing to do with that. It was caused by the second of the problems afflicting him - his own mind-set.
Button himself denies he is suffering from 'title tension' but most observers would disagree. In Valencia, the man who had until then been virtually flawless made a mistake in qualifying and lined up only fifth. He was then caught up in a couple of early tangles, and was down in ninth by the end of the first lap.
Shortly after arriving at Spa on Thursday, Button had a bit of a row with the British newspaper journalists when he was interrogated about his poor run of form. The questioning was designed to provoke him, but the serene Button of earlier in the season would not have taken the bait.
Even Button's team boss intimated on Sunday that Button was feeling the pressure.
"There's a lot of pressure on drivers," Brawn said. "This is pressure he's not had before and he's got to get used to it, but he's handling it well."
The third reason for Button's backwards progress is the development rate of the other teams. Brawn started the season with an advantage of close to a second a lap over the rest of the field. If at that point it looked as if they would walk the championship, the others were always going to close the gap. The surprising thing has been how dramatically they have done so.
It is always the case that the team that starts a season with the best car can make less progress because they are closer to the ultimate potential of the rules. But usually when a team starts with that big a performance advantage, it is not closed as quickly as it has been in this case. And there are those who wonder whether that is related to the fact that Brawn, whose car has no sponsorship on it, are juggling their resources more than other teams need to.
It is well known that they have enough money to last this season - and team insiders insist they have found sponsorship for 2010, although they will not say where it is from. But that is not necessarily the same as having as much money as, say, McLaren or Red Bull.
Looking at all that, it is easy to see how Button might be feeling a bit a beleaguered. But perhaps he should take a step back for a minute and look at the reality of his situation.
Despite all his problems, Button still heads into the final five races of the season with a 16-point lead over a guy in the same car - and a 19-point lead over a man who, despite having a quicker car, has managed to close that gap by only seven points in the last four races.
That in itself should be enough to give him the tranquillity he needs to approach the denouement of the season in the right frame of mind. Looking at it like that, in fact, you could even be forgiven for thinking that it is Button's destiny to win this championship.
But Button has been around far too long to be thinking like that. He knows the championship is there to be won - and that there is a long way to go before that happens.
He also knows that if he does not get himself together sooner rather than later, the title that seemed to be his for the taking could slip through his fingers.