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Button leads competition for 2nd behind Vettel

McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button of Britain is seen as he speaks with media at the Yas Marina racetrack, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov.10, 2011. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button of Britain is seen as he speaks with media at the Yas Marina racetrack, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov.10, 2011. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
By Michael Casey
AP Sports Writer / November 10, 2011

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—With Sebastian Vettel already crowned Formula One world champion, Jenson Button leads a group of four drivers fighting for second place with two races remaining.

The McLaren driver has a 13-point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso coming into this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Red Bull's Mark Webber is 19 points back and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton 38 points behind.

Button says he would rather be challenging for the championship but acknowledges that finishing ahead of several other former champions would still be "good end to a positive" season.

"When you have won a world championship, nothing else will do except for winning," said Button, who won the 2009 title.

"But also to finish in front of Red Bull and Fernado in a Ferrari ... and also Lewis, it would be something you would fight for definitely rather than settling and not really giving it your all. I'm still concentrating on winning races and I'm not going to back off if I can think I can secure second place easier."

Though he joked few would remember his runner up title, the 31-year-old from Britain said second place would cap a season in which he often was the best driver after Vettel. He was much more consistent than his teammate Hamilton -- who was often undermined by penalties and crashes -- and won was praise for his masterly driving in the three races he did win.

He said much of that came down to improving the reliability of his car and being more involved in the development of his car than he was the first season.

"I feel a lot of time we've done the best we possibly could have," Button said. "I've done a good job in terms driving car and working with engineers. Suzaka (Japan) was great victory for us. We were quick, consistent. The pit stops were fantastic. Everything just fell into place. When you have a weekend like that whether you win or not, you come away happy."

Two-time champion Alonso also will be gunning for second. But he said it wasn't so much for himself as it was his team. Much like Button, he said he would have loved to be challenging for the title in Abu Dhabi. Last year, he arrived as points leader but lost the championship to Vettel after he finished seventh.

"It's better second than fourth or fifth. But we are competitive people. We like to win and when we cannot arrive first it's not the same," Alonso said.

"At the same point, I see all the guys, the mechanics, the engineers really pushing to help me to reach second place," he said. "We know the tough year we had, the problems we faced in parts of the year, so the team is really motivated to help me get second in drivers championship. For them, I will try and do my best for sure."

Despite being in the hunt for second, Alonso on Thursday couldn't hide his disappointment with a season in which aerodynamics problems have let Red Bull drivers Vettel and Webber gain too much of an edge. The team has only won one race and endured a series of uncharacteristic management changes.

Hamilton was even harder on himself, brushing aside any talk of finishing second as almost a pointless exercise.

Hamilton described his year as "a couple of so-so races but the rest have been fairly disappointing." Though he has won twice, Hamilton's season has been defined by his missteps including several penalties that forced him down the grid and a running feud with Ferrari's Felipe Massa whom he has crashed into the past three out of four races.

Much of his troubles, Hamilton said, was because of a lack of a support system around him. Hamilton last year dropped his father, Anthony Hamilton, as manager and last month confirmed he broke up with his longtime girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger of the pop group Pussycat Dolls.

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Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mcasey1