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.