Jenson Button has laid down the importance of McLaren-Mercedes getting off to a flying start in the F1 2011 World Championship – and questioned the motive behind Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso pinpointing Michael Schumacher as his most dangerous threat this season.
Button made an excellent start to proceedings last year, of course, with two triumphs from the opening four races – in Australia and China – seeing the 2009 F1 World Champion soar to the top of the title standings, but the fact was that his victories were achieved more by dint of tactical guile and canny opportunism than by out-and-out raw pace, as McLaren's MP4-25 was palpably not a match for Red Bull Racing's dominant RB6 in the performance stakes, and it never truly caught up.
Speaking at the Berlin launch of its striking MP4-26 successor, the British star stressed that twelve months on, it is imperative that the Woking-based outfit comes out-of-the-blocks in the Bahrain curtain-raiser in March ready to fight for glory right from the word go.
“It was close in 2010,” the 31-year-old reflected. “I feel the Red Bull was a very strong car last year; I was a little surprised they didn't actually clinch the title earlier in the season but it doesn't matter – they came away with the championship and we didn't, so fair play to them.
“I think we learned a lot last season, and having two drivers (himself and team-mate Lewis Hamilton) who now have experience of the team is important. We spent the whole winter trying to develop the car and give it direction – and for that, two experienced drivers are better than one! Hopefully that will help us in 2011.
“We come back feeling fitter and mentally stronger, with a great bunch of people ready to fight for this championship – McLaren-Mercedes are not here to finish as runners-up. We have a positive outlook, and we're looking forward to Bahrain and to starting the season strongly, because that's a must.”
Button has endured all manner of highs-and-lows during his eleven-year F1 career to-date, from finding himself without a drive at all at the end of 2008 to toasting an incredible and entirely unanticipated world championship success story less than twelve months later. The nine-time grand prix-winner contends that the strength-in-depth of the competition on the grid is arguably now fiercer than it has ever been – although he does not necessarily agree with Alonso's somewhat bizarre pronouncement [see separate story – click here
“Maybe he does think that, or maybe there's another reason for him saying it,” he mused. “It's impossible to judge how good Michael Schumacher is going to be in 2011 – I really don't know who is going to be strong. I do know Lewis is going to be competitive, though – and hopefully he will be who I'm fighting against for the world championship.
“I think it's good that there are so many world champions in F1 now, as well as two guys who have come very close to it in Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. Robert Kubica is very good, too – I think the competitiveness of the teams and drivers right now is the best it's ever been. It's going to be another close fight this year, and I wouldn't want to pick any of them out to say which ones are seriously going to challenge for the world championship.”