Defending world champion Jenson Button has warned McLaren-Mercedes' F1 2010 rivals that with regard to the MP4-25, 'the potential to develop is huge' - as he eyes a step forward in the forthcoming Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, where he will bid to atone for the 'missed opportunity' of Malaysia.

Having been caught out by the elements in qualifying - both in terms of timing and the gravel trap - Button began the grand prix in Sepang from just 17th. The following day, his progress through the field was stymied by an early tyre stop that - contrary to his inspired race-winning decision a week earlier Down Under in Melbourne - left the British star with distinctly worn rubber come the closing stages, and fighting a defensive battle against the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso rather than moving further up the order.

Eighth place was the outcome, two places behind team-mate and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton. Whilst the three points that went with it have kept the 30-year-old well in touch in the chase for the crown - in fourth spot, four markers adrift of leader Felipe Massa - Button subsequently flew back to the UK to conduct some work in McLaren's state-of-the-art simulator at the team's Woking headquarters, before returning to the Far East again shortly after.

The marathon 21,000km round-trip arose out of a desire both to hone the MP4-25's latest developments earmarked for China and also improve his own comfort and confidence in the car, having struggled with a range of balance and set-up issues in Sepang.

"Thirty hours is a lot of flying for one day's work," he quipped, "but I'm sure it's worth it. The great thing is our car is improving all the time, but I'm still not 100 per cent happy with its balance. Hopefully we can sort out some of the problems in the simulator - there is no team like this for solving issues.

"It's a long way back [to Asia afterwards for the Chinese Grand Prix], but they wouldn't be sending me to Woking unless there were a few things to test. It's important for a number of reasons. It's been my first chance to get back to the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) since winning in Melbourne two weeks ago, and it's nice to get back and share some of that with the people who made it possible - but coming to MTC is just part of the job.

"I know people think it's all about driving the car, but there's a lot of work that goes on back at the factory to make sure we're as well-prepared as we can be when we arrive at the track. I was going to the factory pretty much on a weekly basis through the winter just to make sure that we were preparing for the new season properly, and this week's visit is part of that programme - it's important to debrief thoroughly and go through everything that happened to work out how to make the car better for the future.

"I was doing some simulator work, looking back over the Malaysia weekend to see what we'd have done differently, or how we'd have pursued things if we'd had more time. We also looked ahead to next weekend's race at Shanghai. I feel like we made a little bit of a step in our understanding of the car and I'm looking forward to trying that out during practice in China. We are excited about getting it right.

"As I've said, I do feel very comfortable in this car; pretty much straightaway I felt at home in the cockpit, but I've also said that I need to go just that bit further to get myself perfectly comfortable. I'm not quite there yet, but one of the amazing things about this team is their dedication towards making things perfect for me. The attention-to-detail is amazing, and my engineers and I have been working through some very detailed programmes to get myself further dialled into the car - and I think we've been successful with that.

"I had the car pretty much to my liking in Melbourne, and the result was extremely encouraging - but the most satisfying thing about the opening three races is the belief that we have a fantastic car beneath us. We've said all along that the MP4-25 is quite a departure from last year's car, and even though I never drove the 2009 car, I know that we've gone all-out to develop a car that's more revolution than evolution.

"As a result, we're still working to fully understand the car and how we can bring more performance to it. I think the potential to develop this car is huge, and I know that's something we are working flat-out to capitalise upon. I think we have a very, very strong foundation, but I'm most excited about what will be coming in three, six or ten races' time - that's what will define where we finish at the end of the year."

In order to come out on top, of course, McLaren will need to get the better of chief rivals Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and possibly Mercedes Grand Prix, in what has all the hallmarks of being a fierce dogfight right the way to the close of the campaign. Ferrari and Red Bull appear to have an early edge, with McLaren playing catch-up and Mercedes slightly trailing - but Button suggested that the other six title duelists would be well-advised to watch out for the two silver-and-red machines in Shanghai.

"It's still really close at the top, which is quite surprising in some ways," reflected the eight-time grand prix-winner. "I don't think I was the only one who thought that the new points system would reward the fastest drivers more than those who are simply more consistent - but we've seen in the first three races that consistency still counts for a lot.

"Fortunately, we've seen that the McLaren-Mercedes team is extremely reliable, and I well know from last year that the Mercedes-Benz engines are some of the most reliable on the whole grid. I can take a lot of positives from that; reliability is the backbone of any championship campaign and, so far, we've got both cars to the finish of every race - and we're the only top team to have done that.

"I think this two-week break will be very useful for all the teams. I think we saw in Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia that all the teams had a few bugs in the system - and you have to expect that after three pretty much non-stop races halfway around the world. For China, I think we'll see the top teams raise their game. I don't think there's any room for under-performance any more.

"Personally, I am looking forward to a problem-free weekend - I want to qualify well and have a straightforward race, something I didn't manage in either Bahrain or Malaysia. Also, I'm really interested in seeing exactly what our car can achieve on a dry track starting from the front. Malaysia was a little bit of a missed opportunity for us, but I have every belief that we'll be just as strong, if not stronger, in China next weekend."