Off the back of his runner-up finish in last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, Jenson Button has thrown down the gauntlet to early runaway F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel – asserting that the Red Bull Racing steamroller needs stopping in its tracks, and that McLaren-Mercedes is the team to do it.
With five pole positions and five victories from the last six races – and a clean sweep from the opening two grands prix of the current campaign – Vettel is very much the man in-form in F1 right now, but Button claims the young German's dominance is doing the sport few favours and that it is time for him to be knocked off his perch.
The British star presently sits second in the title standings, albeit 24 points adrift of 'Super Seb', but having enjoyed a seamless stretch of his own back at the beginning of 2009 – with six triumphs from the first seven outings en route
to that year's crown – he contends that it would do everybody good to see a different face atop the podium. Even Red Bull.
“When somebody makes a start like Sebastian has, it's tricky,” Button conceded, speaking to PA Sport
. “We've only had two races and he's already a race win in front of me, and I'm second in the championship, so it's not perfect – [but] although I'm a lot of points behind Sebastian, who is doing a magnificent job, I feel we are closing in on Red Bull. I still feel there is more to find with the set-up of the car, and hopefully we'll have some more upgrades for this weekend in China so we can take the fight to them.
“F1 wants to see that, and I'm sure Red Bull want a bit of a challenge as well, not to have it all their own way. Although Sebastian has an advantage on myself and Lewis [Hamilton – McLaren team-mate], it's only two races in [and] we've another 17 left. As we know, most years it goes down to the wire, so hopefully it will be the same case this year.
“We can't let the Red Bulls have it all their own way for much longer. Our aim is to challenge these guys, but it's not that easy – they are very, very fast. At this moment in time, Sebastian is the person to beat. He's won two races out of two and nobody else has been as consistent. In terms of pace, we are the second-best, but we need to find some improvements.
“The feeling of the car is good, though, and that gives me confidence. This team also has resources – you just have to look at where we came from this winter to see how quickly you can improve, and we're not stopping there. There are a lot of new things in the pipeline with this car, so they (Red Bull) are not alone. I'm sure they're going to develop the car very well, [but] we will as well. It's a hell of a challenge for all of us.”
As he looks ahead to the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai – a race that he won last year during his first season with McLaren, but one that yielded Red Bull's breakthrough F1 success twelve months earlier still – the 31-year-old admits he is a great fan of both the circuit and the city, and is hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the Woking-based outfit can turn the tables on its Milton Keynes rival this weekend.
“It's a good, modern circuit with a couple of interesting touches,” he mused. “The first corner is quite unique – you enter it at full-throttle in seventh gear, then come down through the gears as the corner continually tightens. It's a very long corner – it's all about being patient – and there's a little bump right on the entry, which can make it quite tricky, too.
“Along the massive back straight, even without DRS, I still think there will be plenty of opportunity for overtaking – especially if we see the same sort of close racing as we witnessed in Malaysia. If that's where they put the DRS zone for the race, then I think we'll see some spectacular passing – and possibly even re-passing – down that back straight.
“Off the back of two successive podium finishes for the team, we're not only hopeful of maintaining our finishing record, but of improving it, too. We've made no secret of our desire to take the fight to Red Bull, and we're fully aware that stronger opposition will make it harder for them to have a smooth and uninterrupted weekend. As we expected, Malaysia showed that the sharp end of the grid is incredibly competitive, and that there are at least four teams that can expect to fight for the podium this weekend.”
Meanwhile, amidst the ongoing debate about F1's future engine regulations and after Vettel admitted that he hankers after a return to 'brutal', growling V12 power [see separate story – click here
], Button confesses that his own preference would be to race with V10s again, even if he acknowledges that the sport needs to act responsibly by moving with the times.
“Most of us drivers would like the V10 engines back,” the nine-time grand prix-winner told Spanish newspaper El Pais
. “It was just so incredible to hear that roar of 20,000rpm. In 2004 or 2005, the noise was really impressive. That's in the past, although the V8 also sounds good – and F1 is becoming greener and that's the way to go, so that we can keep going for many years.”