Jenson Button will start the 2013 F1 Grand Prix of China from eighth place on the grid, but he does so knowing that all the cars ahead of him will be on the short-lived soft option tyres - and the Briton is hoping that this will give him a crucial advantage over the rest of the field early in the race
“Our aim was to be the first Prime-tyre runner on the grid, even if it meant qualifying tenth," he explained after the end of a tense qualifying dominated by tyre management strategies. "And we did that. This was the best we could do with what we have."
Button was helped by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel outbraking himself into turn 14 on his own sole qualifying run of Q3, meaning the German driver will start alongside Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg who opted not to run at all in an effort to save tyres for the race. Vettel's team mate Mark Webber didn't make it through to Q3 because of an earlier fuel problem.
"To out-qualify both Red Bulls in Q3, and with a two-minute lap, was amazing!" laughed Button. "I think we should be very happy with our qualifying performance: we don't really have the pace of the front-running cars yet, but finishing seventh in Q2 was really satisfying.
“All the guys in front will be starting on grained Soft-compound tyres, and I think we're going to see the high-fuel graining on the Soft that we saw in practice yesterday, so it's going to be an extremely interesting race," he continued. “The first 10 laps tomorrow are going to be eventful; if I can get a good start, I'll hopefully be able to find some clear air in front of me, and then we'll see what happens."
Like Button, Vettel will start tomorrow's Grand Prix on medium tyres, while Hulkenberg has the freedom of choice but will likely do the same. But everyone ahead is now committed to soft tyres thanks to their late qualifying efforts in the final round of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
“We believe that tyre choice in the race could be decisive, and feel that starting Jenson on the Prime gives us a very strong strategy for the race," agreed McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "He comfortably got through to Q3 and then drove a disciplined lap, with one eye on tomorrow's race strategy, to finish as the highest placed runner on the harder compound tyre."
Sadly, Button's team mate Sergio Perez didn't make it into Q3, faltering in the last-minute flurry of flying laps at the end of Q2.
“It's been a difficult weekend so far," the young Mexican admitted. “I really should have been in Q3 today, but I didn't manage to find as much time as the others in Q2.