Jenson Button has admitted that the McLaren team is heading to Monaco hoping that the legendary street circuit will play to the strengths of its MP4-26.
After strong sector performances in the tighter sections of both Istanbul Park and the Circuit de Catalunya recently, the Briton – who won in the Principality two years ago – is optimistic that he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton should be able to continue taking the fight to Red Bull Racing and, particularly, world champion Sebastian Vettel, who has won four of the opening five races in 2011.
Hamilton chased the German to the line in Spain less than a week ago, which was encouragement in itself, but Button is especially excited by the McLaren's specific sector results following the introduction of a parts upgrade in Barcelona.
“We were good in the last sector in Turkey and in Barcelona,” he noted, “Whether it changes when you have got a barrier next to the circuit, I don't know, we will have to see, but I think we have to be positive coming into this race.
“The last race was good for Lewis and myself after lap one, and he was able to push Sebastian until the end. It has been a little while since we have seen that, so it shows that the upgrades we brought did help. We always want more, but I think it was a good upgrade.”
Having been forced out of the defence of his Monaco crown even before the start of last year's race, Button knows all about the Principality's reputation for unpredictable results, however, and refuses to talk up McLaren's chances too much, especially with Pirelli introducing its supersoft tyre at the weekend.
“I really don't know where we are going to be, but we should be positive,” he claimed, “Mechanically, I think our car is strong and we will see. Our KERS system is very good. I know there are another four cars with it, but it should work well for us.”
“I really haven't got a clue [what's going to happen with the tyres] yet. We haven't run the supersoft tyre for a long time, and haven't run it on our existing car. I'm sure there's going to be quite a bit of degradation on the supersoft. The soft is going to last longer, probably, than on other circuits, because you don't have high speed here, so there's a lot less degradation on the high speed corners but, strategy-wise, it's very, very difficult to know what to do.
“It's been very difficult every race this season, to really pick the right strategy. I think, when you get into a race situation, there's more degradation than you expect, for most people, and I think, here, it's going to be a little bit up in the air. You're really going to have to think on your feet during the race, because we don't know where there's going to be a lot of degradation or not. It might be two stops, it might be five. You never know.”
Despite not having reached the top step of the podium in 2011, Button has been in the top three twice this season, including last weekend in Spain. Having tasted Monaco success in 2009, however, he admits that there is no race he would rather win more if given the opportunity.
“For me, it is a very special race,” he confirmed, “I think it's because, even if you're leading the race, it's very stressful. Mentally it is very, very draining. It feels like the road is narrowing over the 78 laps. Putting it on pole here meant probably as much to me as it did to win the race - when you are pushing the car to the limit on low fuel, new tyres, getting as close as you can to the barriers, that is a real buzz.”