McLaren-Mercedes managing director Jonathan Neale has sprung to the defence of reigning world champion Jenson Button in response to accusations that the British star's form has been frustratingly unpredictable in F1 2010 to-date – insisting the fault lies with the car rather than with the driver.
His two bold and tactically-inspired triumphs in Melbourne and Shanghai aside, Button has finished no higher than fifth in the opening six grands prix of the campaign. What's more, an early bath in Monaco last time out has resulted in the 30-year-old sliding from the top of the title standings to fourth place arriving in Istanbul for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, around a sweeping circuit at which on paper the MP4-25 should excel.
Last year, the Frome-born ace commandingly pinched victory from under the noses of Red Bull Racing duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in Turkey – and give the man the tools, Neale contends, and he will do the job again.
“I don't think Jenson's fluctuation of form is anything to do with him – I think it's us,” the Englishman asserted in a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session. “Obviously, we let him down in Monaco by dispatching the car with a piece of support equipment in it, which was not great.
“In terms of the car specifically for Jenson, there's nothing about his driving style relative to Lewis [Hamilton – team-mate]'s that says they want to exploit the tyres any differently. They have slightly different preferences for braking, but by the time that you're into brakes you're into second orders of magnitude, compared to the fundamentals of suspension and wheelbase.
“We're very happy that having these drivers doesn't mean that the chief engineer has got to open up two or three development paths, which sap the organisation of energy. We're not looking at different suspension layouts, and it means we can focus on getting more downforce and getting more out of the tyres, which is essentially the only way we're going to close the gap to Red Bull – that, and being operationally more effective.”
One fact that arguably will not help the team's cause in that respect is the recent departure of esteemed chief engineer Pat Fry, but Neale stresses he is confident that the Woking-based outfit has sufficient 'strength-in-depth' to overhaul its Milton Keynes-based adversary, even if he acknowledges that fellow teams are now all 'in a mad scramble to recreate' McLaren's successful F-Duct innovation and 'will be able to catch up'.
“I think whenever somebody of Pat's calibre leaves the team it's sad,” he conceded. “We like Pat very much and he's a fine engineer, but people have their lives to lead and want to do other things. It doesn't give me any immediate concern for the performance of the team or what we do for next year's car at all, because we're still a team that has strength-in-depth and we're committed to maintaining that. Yes, it's regrettable, but Pat has to move on and do other things with his life so we'll carry on internally as you would expect.
“All the teams – particularly when there are big packages coming into the European season – take a look at each other's cars, and there are matters of interpretation from one to the next. As far as we were concerned, Red Bull ran a legal car in Monaco; there were some queries that we had, but I'm not aware that they did anything specific on the car.
“One or two of the teams spoke to us about some things on our car and we've spoken to some other teams, but I wouldn't say there's any big issue – it's just business-as-usual for the European season. What is really good to see is that rather than this stuff being played out as major spats in court rooms and everything else, the technical directors collectively are doing a good job of clarifying with each other to try and make sure that we run the sport in a seemly way.
“[Red Bull] can be [caught], and obviously ourselves, Ferrari, Mercedes and others are trying to do just that. I suspect – and certainly our plans are – that they won't have this advantage all season, though I'm sure if you spoke to Adrian [Newey – RBR chief technical officer], he'd say 'we're working just as hard to stay ahead of these so-and-sos...'”