Jenson Button has admitted that the way in which he won the Japanese Grand Prix is extremely promising for both the rest of the season and looking forward to 2012.
Although his miniscule hopes of winning a second world title were extinguished by the reliability of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull - the German needed only a single point regardless of Button's result - Button showed that McLaren deserved its position as the car to beat after topping free practice early in the Suzuka weekend. Vettel took pole by 0.009secs, and led the opening phase of the race, but had no answer to Button when the Briton, who was able to run further on his tyres, eventually took the lead at the second round of pit-stops.
Although the gap closed over the final few laps - Button admitted that he had missed one pit board and was shocked to see a six-second lap suddenly shown as just two - the McLaren driver looked untroubled as he claimed a third win of the season, and immediately suggested that developments had lifted the Woking team onto a performance par with its rivals.
"It gives us, as a team, a lot of motivation," he confirmed, "It is good, as Sebastian said, to see three different cars within, I think, about three seconds. It shows how competitive F1 is at the moment. I need to say a big thanks to the team for the improvements we have had over the last few races and, today, they have been impeccable. Congratulations to them and congratulations to the fans. I think we put on a good show for them today.
"It was a great race, and a very interesting race as tyre wear was massive. It wasn't just down to being quick over one lap, you really had to think through the race. I really enjoyed it out there. It is always a very special place to race, Suzuka, a fast, flowing circuit and it is unforgiving, so one little mistake and it is game over."
Asked whether he was genuinely in trouble in the closing moments, or simply playing it conservatively to ensure his tyres and fuel lasted to the flag, Button pointed to his fastest lap - the second in as many races, but one of only six in the Briton's career - on lap 52 of 53 as proof that he was coasting.
"I've been watching Seb drive all year and decided that it is the way to go racing - just cruise it and stick in a fast lap," he joked, "That's what he seems to do at the end of the race, so I thought I would give it a go and it worked pretty well, so it was good.
"Seriously, I was looking after tyres, also looking after a bit of fuel, so it wasn't the easiest few laps, and not the most enjoyable, I must admit - but we got it home. The car has been great around here. The Red Bulls are always so strong on these fast circuits, especially with the change of direction, so for us to win here really does mean a lot for us, as we have been fighting this for two years now.
"It is good to be up there with the Red Bulls and, in a way, it is nice that the Ferrari is up there as well. A three-way battle at the end, four seconds between us or less, this is what racing is all about and, hopefully, it will be the same for the next few races."