Sebastian Vettel's consistency over the opening two rounds of the 2011 F1 season has given the reigning world champion a comfortable 24-point cushion at the top of the standings but, as Jenson Button pointed out, there is still a long way to go.
The Briton followed Vettel across the line in round two at Sepang over the weekend, but was quick to suggest that rivals to the Red Bull driver needed to start recording solid results if they were to prevent him wrapping up a second title well before the end of the season. Button's 18 points from Malaysia were enough to lift him into second in the table, with Vettel's RBR team-mate Mark Webber, despite not yet featuring on the podium, into third as the top eight from Australia found itself shuffled at Sepang.
Lewis Hamilton, who chased Vettel home in Melbourne, suffered a torrid end to Sunday's race that saw him drop to seventh on the road, while Vitaly Petrov, who had left Australia third in the running order, crashed out late on while poised for more points. In their place, Button was following up a frustrated sixth in Melbourne while Nick Heidfeld, who denied Webber a podium shot, did not even score 'down under'.
As a result, Vettel heads to this weekend's third round in China with 24 points in hand over the 2009 world champion, with Webber a further four points behind. Hamilton is level on points with the Australian, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa on 20 and 16 respectively, just ahead of the well-matched Lotus Renault pair.
"At this moment in time, yes, Sebastian [is] the person to beat," Button said, with no hint of irony, "He's won two races out of two and nobody else has been consistent. He's got a 24-point lead and that's a lot after two races, but there are still another 17 to go, maybe 18."
With successive second places after a dismal pre-season, Button appeared confident that he and Hamilton would be best-placed to hunt Vettel down over the remainder of the campaign, even though Webber remains a threat and both Ferrari and Renault continue to show potential.
"Of course, the Red Bulls' pace is very good, [and] I think, in terms of pace we, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, are the second best, but I think we need to find some improvements. That's in the pipeline. It's exciting for us that we've made some good improvements already and, hopefully, in China, we can make a really good race of it.
"It was very important [to kick-start my season here]. The first race didn't really go my way - it was frustrating and I made a mistake, got a drive-through for it, and had to find my way back through. It was just one of those races, but the pace of the car was very good so I came here looking for a good result. Until the last lap, I was still trying to fight for the victory - I know it was a long shot, but you've got to give it a go.
"I'm happy to take away 18 points. It gives me confidence, not just to come away with second place, but that the feeling of the car is good. We need to improve, but the feeling of the car is good and that's important to me. We've only got a few days before the next race, but we're doing everything we can to make the small improvements and the details that we can and, hopefully, have a better race in China."