Following a desultory qualifying session at Interlagos today, reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button has conceded that not only is the defence of his hard-fought crown now over, but from where he will be starting Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, he will be of little use in helping to support McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton's challenge for glory, either – so he plans to just go out there and, like last year in São Paulo, 'have some fun'.
Button struggled throughout the qualifying session – characterised by a tricky wet-but-drying track surface, the kind of conditions in which his deft car control is usually a bonus – and after his penultimate effort to haul himself into the top ten shoot-out in Q2 fell agonisingly less than a tenth of a second short of making the grade, the British star's final lap was scuppered when the deteriorating intermediate tyres on his MP4-25 proved too worn to improve in any case, leading to the lap being aborted. Not, all-in-all, he reflected afterwards, his finest of days.
“It's been a pretty tough weekend,” the 30-year-old candidly if dejectedly mused. “I've been struggling to find a balance. The front wheels have been locking quite a lot [under braking], and it's therefore been quite hard to slow the car down. That's been my biggest issue, and it was no exception in qualifying.
“Having said that, the car was better in qualifying than it had been all through practice beforehand. We fitted new intermediates at the end of Q2, and my first lap was okay but not quite good enough. Then I damaged my tyres a bit too much on my second lap, and I couldn't get a decent time out of them after that so I got squeezed out of Q3 at the last second.
“I've started from worse places here and done okay, like last year when I qualified 14th, and I'm on the clean side of the grid so we'll see what happens. I'm not as disappointed as I was last year, but I'm still pretty disappointed.”
Eleventh spot at the close – whilst world championship rivals Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso will begin the grand prix respectively second, third, fourth and fifth – and at 42 points adrift of the top of the standings, Button acknowledges that his bid to lift the laurels for a second consecutive season is now 'pretty much impossible'. What's worse, from where he is starting, he admits he will likely have scant opportunity to aid Hamilton's cause, either.
“Slipping away? It had pretty much slipped away before this race,” the nine-time grand prix-winner replied when asked if his title chances are now receding. “I came here with a sliver of hope of retaining the championship, but now it's pretty much gone. It's pretty much impossible, so I'm not going to think about that.
“It's frustrating to be quite a way behind Lewis on the grid, because I'll consequently have less chance to support him during the race – as a supporting role, it's pretty difficult when you are so far behind your team-mate, so I'm not going to be able to help him in that way.
“I'm just going to go out there and enjoy the race and take as many points as I can. There's still a lot of hope of a good race tomorrow, and I think we can still enjoy it. My car this year is as good as I had last year, at least, so I think we can have a good race, and from eleventh, my main aim is to have some fun.”
“Jenson missed out on getting into Q3 by a fraction of a second, which was a little unlucky,” mused McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “but then again, that's the kind of unanticipated occurrence that can all-too-easily happen in changeable weather conditions.
“Besides, he's a superbly combative racing driver – as we've seen him demonstrate many times in the past and indeed in fine style at this very circuit a year ago – so, like Lewis, he'll attack Interlagos with controlled aggression tomorrow, and will be looking to score as many world championship points as he possibly can.”