Reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button has confessed that he is 'overwhelmed' by just how 'hungry' McLaren-Mercedes is following the team's one-two finish in the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul just over a week ago – as the Woking-based outfit turned what had been looking like an all-Red Bull internecine scrap for supremacy in 2010 into a fraught battle for glory.
Button followed team-mate and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton home in Turkey in McLaren's second whitewash of the campaign to-date, after the all-British duo had taken advantage of a controversial collision between RBR pairing Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber just ahead of them on the track – and survived their own wheel-to-wheel duel not long afterwards as the Frome-born ace attempted to seize the initiative, very nearly successfully.
Still, second place – his third podium finish from the opening seven grands prix, to accompany his inspired tactical triumphs in Australia and China – has kept Button well in the hunt to defend his crown, at just five points adrift of world championship leader Mark Webber.
“It was a great race,” he acknowledged. “It was very satisfying to have the performance to take the race to the Red Bulls, and to have been able to put pressure on them in the way we did. The last laps were fun, too – proper racing, but fun and fair. It was great to be able to race with Lewis; it's actually the first time in our careers that we've been able to do that, and he's a very fair guy on the track.
“It was tricky in those closing laps, because we knew we were pretty marginal on fuel, but the team lets us race and that's exactly what we did. Lewis and I had a good scrap, and I want to congratulate him again for his win – it was a great drive.”
One area in which Button recognises McLaren still has room for improvement is one-lap pace, with Red Bull having monopolised pole position for every grand prix so far – and in some cases, the McLaren men have simply been left with too much work to do and too much ground to make up come race day. Get that sorted, though, he opines, and he and Hamilton could just prove to be unstoppable.
“We know that there's still a way to go to beat the Red Bulls on sheer pace,” the 30-year-old conceded, “but while that's important, it's not a target that we're continually aiming at – we know they're quick, but it's more important for us right now to focus on what we're doing, and make sure we're absolutely performing at the limit. That means we're looking at improving every area; whether that's reliability, performance, strategy, pit-stops or operations, there's a constant rate of improvement in every area of the team – and that won't stop.
“Qualifying pace is still something that we're not entirely satisfied with, but we're pleased that we do appear to have closed the gap to Red Bull. Certainly, if you look at our relative pace in Barcelona, and compare it with Istanbul, then we do seem to be closer. We're not there yet, but we think we've got a good package for Canada, and we're working hard to bring a series of larger improvements to the car later on in the summer.
“I've been in teams before where we've perhaps started the season strongly, or we've had a bit of a performance improvement towards the end of the season, but I'm really overwhelmed by how much this team can just keep developing. That's incredibly exciting to be a part of, because it's a different side to my role as a racing driver – it's not just about getting in and driving every two weeks – and it's great to be part of the process that helps to test, refine and approve the new components we bring to the track each week. The feeling of contributing is incredible, and very rewarding.
“You just can't believe how hungry this team is; when I joined back in January, I was really struck by just how much we were pushing ahead of the launch, and then during testing – but we're now into an incredibly tough series of races, and we're still bringing these huge new development parts to the track, and we're bringing enough parts for both Lewis and myself – it's awesome. It makes you realise why McLaren-Mercedes is so strong – there's just no let-up. I've never known a team be so hungry to go racing – and it's just great to be a part of.”