Jenson Button has predicted that McLaren will be even stronger in China in three weeks time.
After a nightmare start to the season in Australia, the Woking-based outfit bounced back in Malaysia at the weekend, despite the fact there was only a one week gap between the two events.
Indeed Button ran strongly from the off and speaking after the race, he said he thought a podium was definitely a possibility. However, his afternoon was wreaked when he pitted for the third and final time on lap 35, and a wheel gun issue meant he left his box without the front right tyre having been properly secured. Although he stopped further down the pit lane, by the time he was pushed back by his McLaren mechanics, he had dropped out of contention.
The 2009 F1 world champion then had to retire three laps from the end due to a vibration issue, although he was still classified in 17th.
“It's easy for me to say I would have been on the podium because we didn't finish and I am sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think we had a chance to fight with Mercedes," he told Sky Sports F1
after the race. “We had one less pitstop to do. But I don't know what would have happened, but at worst it would have probably been fifth. We could have pushed the Mercedes - they were fighting amongst themselves so it could have been interesting to see where we would have been [relative to them].
“However it is a good improvement from the last race only a week ago. We never thought we would be fighting for fifth here, let alone a little bit better. There are positives, but it is always very tough when you have an issue like this as it is a lot of points to thrown away – even being fifth is ten points. That is tough, but the positives are that we are improving and I can see that we will be even more competitive in China.
“We've made some good improvements. This circuit here has helped us a little bit as it is smoother than Albert Park. But in general we have been trying things and trying to understand the way the aero is working and I think we have a much better understanding now. We are now able to put the car [in terms of set-up] where we think it is working at its best. We are getting there - we won't have such a big step forward in China as we did from the last race to this race, but every little bit will count.
“We had a chance of finishing very high here today and hopefully we can do that again in China.”
McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh meanwhile was also disappointed that Button's great run was brought to an end by a problem in the pits. Like his number one driver though, he can also see that the team is progressing.
“Obviously, we're very disappointed that Jenson lost a hard-earned and well-deserved fifth place, perhaps even third or fourth, as a consequence of a pitstop problem caused by a wheel-gun issue. Jenson did absolutely nothing wrong, by the way, and reacted correctly to the green light,” Whitmarsh said.
“The truth is that he could and should have finished at least fifth – and, although by our own high standards that's not remotely good enough, it plainly shows that we're going in the right direction from a car-development point of view.
“After having finished only ninth and eleventh last weekend in Melbourne, today in Sepang we saw clear evidence that all the hard work we've been doing over the past week has resulted in some significant gains in terms of car development,” he concluded.