Jenson Button insists that his strong 2011 F1 campaign sets him up well for a championship challenge next season - provided McLaren can give him a competitive car from the start of the year.
Despite enduring two years of Red Bull domination since he landed the 2009 world title, Button insists that he has progressed during his time at McLaren and, having got the better of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, albeit a troubled version of his former self, is ready to go head-to-head with the best in the field next year. It still rankles with the Briton that many think he was gifted his title by Brawn's jump-start on the double diffuser and struggled to maintain his advantage as others caught up, but he believes that he is a match for the likes of Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
"I have a great chance of winning another world championship," he told Britain's Observer
newspaper during the Abu Dhabi GP weekend, "The next few months are going to be massively exciting.
"It's going to be a very exciting winter for us, [and] I am just going to be itching to see what we produce next year. We are so, so close to Red Bull in every way that we are going to try and get every single hundredth out of the car over the winter."
Button, who has won three times in 2011 and lies second only to Vettel in terms of points and victories this season, believes he is a more complete driver now than he was when claiming the title two years ago.
"I have a lot more confidence, not just in my ability to drive the car, but my ability to make the right calls in the race and also to work with the team to set up the car in a direction I like," he said, no doubt reflecting on the two victories he took with inspired tyre choices in 2010 and the battling wins in Canada and Japan this season, "I want to be here for the long haul because, if we work together and go through the bad, I think you become much stronger as a team. And, when you do win that world championship, if it happens it means so much more when you've built the car around you and you've built the team around you."
Button needed to finish third in Abu Dhabi to ensure that finished ahead of team-mate Hamilton in the championship, breaking a run which had seen his fellow Briton go unbeaten by a team-mate since graduating to F1 in 2007. Despite losing position to Fernando Alonso on the opening lap at Yas Marina, he remained in contention for the podium and was able to take advantage of Mark Webber's three-stop strategy to get the position he needed.
It wasn't an easy race for the McLaren man, however, as an intermittent KERS failure meant that he was unable to concentrate purely on racing, although that did not prevent him from coming out on top of a couple of wheel-to-wheel battles with Webber.
"I am not sure if my pace was entirely there on the soft tyres, [but] I think it was [from] about lap 13 or 14, I didn't have any KERS," he reported afterwards, admitting that he had been surprised at Red Bull's tactics with Webber, "I had to fend off Webber and also [Felipe] Massa - which was quite interesting without KERS. In the next stint, I was told what I could do to try and get KERS back, and at least we got it back, but it lasted for like two laps at a time and I had to keep resetting it.
"I don't know if they thought that I had the KERS problem for the rest of the race because, when I did, I was obviously a lot slower and he was pushing me around for 15 laps. As soon as I sorted the problem out, I would go half a second quicker, so it was a strange decision to make, but they also made a mistake on the first pit-stop, which lost them a lot of ground. I think that really hurt him and he wasn't able to really challenge after that."
Button now heads to the final round of the season, in Brazil, with a ten-point advantage over Fernando Alonso and 22 in hand over Webber as the three drivers battle for second place in the championship. All have insisted that finishing as runner-up to Vettel isn't important, as long as they beat their rivals on track.