McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh has questioned whether Jenson Button would have been able to win the Chinese Grand Prix even if he hadn't been delayed by a problem at his final pit-stop.
After a good getaway, Button ran third behind the two front row Mercedes until Michael Schumacher retired, and posed a threat to Nico Rosberg through the middle of the race, at one point closing on the leader by a couple of seconds a lap as he lapped on fresher rubber than the German. The two drivers would complete the race on different strategies, with Rosberg and Mercedes opting to take on just two sets of tyres despite the W03's apparent propensity for consuming them, and Button aiming for three stops.
It would be at the third and final stop that the McLaren driver's hopes unravelled, as a sticky left rear cost him vital seconds and saw him return to the track behind a group of cars comprising Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean instead of emerging in front of it as planned. Although the Briton subsequently made his way into second place, the flag fell with him still looking at a 20-second margin to Rosberg.
While Button accepted that such things happen in racing, he also suggested that without the delay he could have had a shot at victory, but Whitmarsh was not so sure.
“Jenson and Lewis both drove brilliantly, coping with a three-stop strategy that demanded that they attack, and overtake, again and again and again throughout the race," he reflected, “That's never easy and, inevitably, they both lost a bit of time on track in their efforts to make their passing manoeuvres stick, but they both kept at it and I'm sure the television spectacle was fantastic as a result.
“Would Jenson have been able to beat Nico if his final pit-stop had gone more smoothly? Well, obviously, he'd have lost less time in the pit-lane and, undoubtedly, he'd have re-emerged onto the track with a clearer road in front of him but, in all fairness, today was Nico's day, and we may not have been able to beat him even if Jenson's final pit-stop had been an impeccably slick one."
Despite not winning the race, McLaren reclaimed the lead of both sets of championship standings, albeit with Hamilton now leading the drivers' table that Button had headed after Australia.
“It was a tough race, but our strategy resulted in both our drivers getting onto the podium," Whitmarsh concluded, "Accordingly, we extended our lead in the constructors' world championship, whilst Lewis and Jenson now lie first and second in the drivers' championship.
"But Nico drove a truly excellent race today, so I want to say 'bravo' to him for taking his maiden grand prix victory - at his 111th attempt, Nico fully deserved to win today. Well done, too, to Mercedes AMG, who were able to manage their car's tyre wear this afternoon better than we'd perhaps anticipated.
“We've had three grands prix so far this year, and they've been won by three different drivers from three different teams. The performance differential between the fastest cars is minimal. It looks like we've got a great season ahead of us, doesn't it? Bring it on!”