Jenson Button says he expects McLaren to be competitive at the Japanese Grand Prix, but admits that he is concerned by the back-to-back retirements to have sidelined himself and team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Italy and Singapore.
After missing out on second place behind Hamilton at Monza, Button inherited the same position when his team-mate was knocked out of the lead at the first of the late-season 'flyaways', but was unable to claim any more after Sebastian Vettel proved too quick to catch over the second two-thirds of the race. Button had gained one place off the line, taking advantage of Vettel's pass on front row starter Pastor Maldonado to squeeze past the Venezuelan but, despite closing the gap to the top two, was unable to take advantage of making his initial set of tyres last a little longer.
"The pace on the supersoft was good," Button confirmed, having led for a couple of laps, "I could look after the tyres pretty well – not that it did me any good anyway because, after the pit-stops, they had a gap because they went to new tyres earlier than me. On the harder of the two tyres, the balance wasn't as good and I couldn't really look after the tyres, so degradation was reasonably high.
"It would have been nicer to have pushed Sebastian a bit harder - you never know around a street circuit, when you push someone hard, there is always the possibility that we could do one step better, but it wasn't to be. Sebastian didn't make any mistakes and we came away with a second. It's reasonably good points and it's nice to get some good points back on the board after the DNF in Monza."
The suspected fuel system failure that sidelined him in Italy effectively ended Button's championship hopes, although he refuses to give up - or back his team-mate's bid - until mathematically eliminated, but two DNFs in as many races comes as some concern as McLaren attempts to close down Red Bull at the head of the constructors' table.
"They didn't say anything [after Hamilton's retirement], but I obviously knew," Button commented, "I'm guessing it was a gearbox problem as, for about three or four laps, it was spraying gearbox oil. I thought it was the backmarker at the time, and then I saw Lewis pull over, so I knew that was from his car.
"It's disappointing for the team to have another DNF – two weekends on the trot. It's something that we need to sort out because, as a team over the race weekends, we're doing a great job and the pace is there with the car. Over the last few races, the results we've had have been very good, but it's just we can't seem to do that with both cars. It's something, for sure, we need to work on for the rest of the season."
Although Mark Webber was subsequently relegated from tenth place for exceeding the track limits, Vettel's race-winning 25 points allowed Red Bull to bolster its advantage over McLaren by seven points, and now leads 297-261 with six races remaining. With Suzuka next up, in two weekends' time, Button will be looking to repeat his 2011 success in Japan, but admits that it won't be easy.
"It's always very difficult to know [how we'll go] because it's such a different circuit to this one," the Briton commented, "But, if you compare it to Spa, and it's reasonably similar to Spa but without the run-off areas, it's a circuit that should suit us pretty well.
"I still think that the Red Bulls will be strong, as they were at Spa. Qualifying was great for us, and the race was as well, but, in the race, our pace was no better than the Red Bulls, so it's going to be a competitive race, I think. We really don't know where the Ferrari will stand on that type of circuit, but it's going to be a competitive race, and one I'm very much looking forward to."