Former F1 World Champion Jenson Button claims he was effectively punished for driving 'a clean, strong race' and taking care of his Pirelli tyres in last weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, but having 'fallen off the bubble' in Istanbul, he insists McLaren-Mercedes will come back fighting-fit again in Barcelona in just over a week's time.
After qualifying sixth around the Istanbul Park Circuit – where he had triumphed in 2009 and finished a close runner-up to team-mate Lewis Hamilton last year – Button looked to be in good shape on race day, with his less aggressive tyre use enabling the British star to stick to a three pit-stop plan as the majority of his rivals found themselves forced to make four.
That strategy might have paid dividends, he reflects, had only it been well-executed – but as it was, he held all the right cards yet for a variety of reasons was unable to play them at the right times, leaving him a distant sixth at the chequered flag, more than a minute adrift of victory.
“I think, like everyone else, we went into the race believing that a three-stopper was the best strategy,” the 31-year-old told his personal website. “While it quickly became quite apparent that most people were being pushed into a four-stopper, I looked after the tyres in that first stint, managed to gain a few laps on the cars around me and still looked set to make a three-stop strategy work.
“I think we were on-course for a decent result, but I suffered a bit when, in the team's attempt to get me into clear air, I was 'boxed a bit too soon into the tyres' life. Plus, I was released into traffic and then those earlier-than-necessary stops left me with a bit of a final stint, which meant I really struggled for pace on tyres that were past their best.
“It's disappointing because, from the cockpit, I didn't really do anything wrong – I drove a clean, strong race and looked after the tyres, but I suffered a bit as a result of that. As we had seen in the first three races, all the teams and drivers are on a steep learning curve with these tyres, and we just have to notch this one down to experience and move on. I think we'll all learn something from Sunday and, hopefully, we can put it to good use as soon as possible.
“Besides, we didn't really have the pace in the car to challenge for victory. When you have a car beneath you that has good pace, it does make your strategy easier; when you're forced to push, you sometimes have to make a marginal call, or try to make a less-than-perfect strategy work. We never said it was easy, and it's good that we feel confident enough to make risky calls. I'll be heading into the next two races feeling more confident that we'll be back to our usual position up at the front.”
Indeed, after Hamilton had ended Sebastian Vettel's dominant run in F1 2011 in the preceding Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, McLaren was optimistic about being able to heap further misery upon arch-rivals Red Bull Racing in Istanbul, but what transpired was what team principal Martin Whitmarsh has conceded was the Woking-based outfit's 'worst' performance of the campaign to-date [see separate story – click here
]. It won't be down long, Button insists.
“For Turkey, we'd planned to introduce a couple of useful upgrades, but for several reasons, we weren't able to get them onto the car,” explained the nine-time grand prix-winner. “As we've said before, the championship battle is basically a development race, and we stumbled a little bit in Turkey because the progress that we'd anticipated making wasn't quite there.
“I know how this team reacts, though – they won't have liked having fallen off the bubble in Turkey and we feel pretty confident that we'll be able to get the pace and reliability from some of our planned upgrades, so I'm optimistic that we'll have those components back on the car for Barcelona. We're always developing new solutions, too, and I know that the designers are pushing hard on all fronts to make sure we're in a position to win more races.”