Jenson Button may have enjoyed three victories in the 2011 F1 season, but knows that any realistic championship challenge evaporated when McLaren was attempting to sort out its MP4-26 in testing.
While main rival Red Bull had comparatively few problems to deal with as it introduced an evolution of its 2010 title-winning RB6, McLaren was untangling its recalcitrant 'octopus' exhaust, which the designers believed would offer an advantage, but turned out to be a major hindrance to development. The issue grew sufficiently big for the Woking team to abandon the concept prior to the curtain-raiser in Melbourne, but it was already on the back foot as Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel stole a march on the rest of the field.
The German romped to victory in the opening two rounds and, even though Button's team-mate Lewis Hamilton won against the odds in China, another three wins on the trot for Vettel began to put the title beyond reach. Button finally made the top step in Canada, using wet conditions to hunt Vettel down on the last lap, but was always fighting for second place overall.
"We have to be better prepared next year," the 31-year old insisted to Britain's Sun
newspaper, "I think we've learned from our mistake and we won't have a winter like the last one, when we didn't really test.
"The exhaust system we were trying was massively different to what everybody else had [and] we perhaps put too much faith in one component of the car. We'd do about five laps in the morning and then the exhaust would break and we'd wait for a new one to be fitted or for fresh parts to arrive from the factory."
Despite the obvious frustration at McLaren's slow start to the season, Button is quick to praise the way in which the team has turned its campaign around, resulting in six wins, spread equally between himself and Hamilton prior to the final round in Brazil this weekend.
"I have to say the guys did an amazing job to find pace that hadn't been there over the winter," the Briton confirmed, "We hadn't tested the car, made any improvements or evolved any set-ups, and the first two races were like that.
"We definitely won't have a winter like that again. I think we're stronger now than at the end of last season. We will be ready for the first race next year and won't just turn up and bolt on a new exhaust."
Despite his optimism, however, Button admits that he will be making no predictions of immediate success, unable to know what McLaren's rivals are up to, particularly with the likes of RBR's Adrian Newey already at work on shaping their 2012 cars to revised regulations.
"It's impossible to know whether we'll be able to win the opening race," the 2009 world champion conceded, "And I don't know if we'd have been able to fight for the title this year. Red Bull and Sebastian have done a great job and it would have been very difficult to beat them."