Heading into this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Jenson Button is confident that McLaren-Mercedes can start to get the better of Red Bull Racing on race day afternoons in F1 2011 – but first, he warns, the team must get on terms with its arch-rival in qualifying, too.
Following a torrid pre-season's testing, McLaren has been increasingly turning up the wick on Red Bull of late, with Lewis Hamilton overhauling runaway world championship leader Sebastian Vettel for victory in Shanghai – the only race this season that the young German has not won – and going on to harry him right the way to the chequered flag in Barcelona.
Button, similarly, would arguably have prevailed in Monaco last time out but for the fact that RBR's pit-stop error bizarrely ended up counting in Vettel's favour – thanks to the fortuitous timing of the mid-race safety car period. After leading commandingly for some 15 laps following the first round of pit visits and looking odds-on to triumph as he pulled seamlessly away, the British star concedes that to ultimately wind up third in the glamorous Principality was undeniably a frustrating outcome.
“On the one hand, it's pleasing that we've had a package capable of winning the race for the last two grands prix,” the 31-year-old – himself a former winner around Monte Carlo's narrow, tortuous streets – wrote on his personal website. “Of course, it's never satisfying to see a potential victory slip away from you, but that's Monaco, sometimes – and there are still lots of positives to take away from the weekend.
“We arrived with a very well-sorted car and were immediately on the pace. As always, the engineers did a brilliant job between Thursday and Saturday to improve the set-up and balance, and we went into qualifying with a really strong car. I was pleased with second but, if it hadn't been for the red flag, I think we could've gone faster. Would it have been enough for pole? Who knows?
“Second was a good place to start, though, and it was all feeling pretty easy in the race. The engineers did a good job to keep me informed of what was happening and the car felt pretty easy to push, particularly during that second stint when we were extremely quick. I don't think I did much wrong out on the track but, unfortunately, it was taken away from us by circumstances beyond our control. Like I said, that's the way Monaco goes.
“[Towards the end of the race] both Seb and Fernando [Alonso] were driving really well. It was difficult to drive so closely behind them because, when you're so close to the back of another car, you don't really get a clear view of the apexes, which makes your life difficult around a place as tight and twisting as Monte Carlo.
“I could get close to them, but the only way I was really going to be able to force my way past was if one of them made a mistake or ran off-line somewhere. I wasn't necessarily looking to push past, though – I could see that Seb's tyres were going off and that Fernando could sense there was a possibility to overtake. I was pretty much biding my time, waiting for Fernando to launch a move – because it would have either ended with both of them crashing or with Fernando through into the lead and me with a good chance to have a go at Seb.
“While it was disappointing that we couldn't take the win – which would have been fantastic for the team – we got some decent points and we're nicely set up for the next couple of races, I think. It was nice to lead the race and to be able to pull away comfortably. Even if the result didn't match it, that sort of thing is always nice to keep at the back of your mind.”