Having 'punched above its weight' in Istanbul and Montreal, McLaren-Mercedes was brought back down to earth by Red Bull Racing's scintillating raw speed in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone just over a week ago – leading defending world champion Jenson Button to acknowledge that nobody 'can afford to stand still' in F1 2010.
McLaren arrived on home turf off the back of one-two finishes in Turkey and Canada and an unexpected two-three in the European Grand Prix in Valencia, riding the crest of a wave of momentum with its two drivers sat atop the title standings, with high expectations for the new RBR-inspired exhaust-blown rear end due to be fitted onto the MP4-25 – and fired-up to spark a fans' frenzy by monopolising the top two steps of the podium again.
Only, it didn't quite work out that way. Not only did the new aerodynamic appendage prove so problematic to begin with during Friday practice that it was subsequently dropped for the remainder of the grand prix weekend, but Red Bull duo Vettel and Webber went on to lap a gaping seven tenths of a second out-of-reach of anybody
else in qualifying, with no significant updates to the RB6 to-boot.
On race day, whilst Button's team-mate Lewis Hamilton doggedly and impressively tracked race-winner Webber all the way to the chequered flag to claim an immensely popular second place, the Australian always seemed to have plenty more in-hand whenever he needed it – and whilst the Frome-born ace himself drove well indeed to salvage a strong fourth place from 14th on the starting grid, the seven tenths deficit to the Red Bulls from qualifying remained. Work to do, the 30-year-old concedes.
“It's one of those things where, perhaps, you go into it feeling optimistic that it will deliver the required performance step, but in reality it's more complicated than that,” Button told his personal website, reflecting on the false start with the blown rear end. “At Silverstone, we had the added complication of a new track configuration that we'd never driven on before and it was also very, very bumpy, which didn't help us quickly fine-tune the set-up of the car.
“On Friday, we struggled to make the car feel nice – it was just unpredictable and difficult to feel comfortable in. That could have been a set-up issue, but Lewis was reporting exactly the same issues from the other side of the garage, so it quickly became apparent that it wasn't an individual problem, it was something affecting both cars. Was it the right decision to go back to the old floor? It was a tough decision, but you've got to look at the result we got on Sunday to say that we made the right call.
“I've never seen such an amazing team effort from all the guys. Not only did they work like crazy to get the upgrades onto the cars for Friday morning – which is a massive effort, because you're changing pretty much the whole back-end – but then they had to do the opposite after Friday practice, and revert back to the original rear floor. For Gary [Paffett – test driver] to step in at the last minute, head back to the McLaren Technology Centre and spend Friday night working on set-ups for Silverstone using the original floor configuration, well I think that shows how well we work as a team – and we scored 30 points on Sunday, which was amazing.
“I was pretty downbeat on Saturday night, because you know that, in modern F1, when you start 14th you're only really likely to just scrape into the points – and even then only if you're lucky – so I went into the race knowing I had nothing to lose. I knew I was going to be aggressive at the start, and just see where it took me. As it happened, I got a decent getaway, pushed hard, managed to get past four cars and was helped by Sebastian [Vettel] and Felipe [Massa]'s punctures to make up six places.
“After that, I knew I was in with a shot at some decent points. The retirement of Robert [Kubica] and Fernando [Alonso]'s drive-through also helped. I think I could have even been in with a shot at the podium, but I was stuck behind Michael [Schumacher]'s car for much of my first stint, and I lost ground. I was disappointed not to have been on the podium, because I'd have liked to have given the home fans something extra to cheer about, but I can't complain. I only lost six points to Lewis in the championship, and that on a weekend which, on Saturday evening, didn't look like being too kind to me – so no complaints.”