Jenson Button finished sixth in the Belgian Grand Prix but, for a brief while, it appeared that Briton may be ready to fight for a first podium of 2013.
On a weekend that began with him ruling out such a possibility, Button made the most of a higher-than-expected qualifying slot to slot into a top four position early on, even taking the lead as he ran longer on his first set of medium compound Pirellis than his rivals.
When he did stop, on lap 17, he rejoined in sixth spot but shod with the harder rubber. Although 27 laps was a tall task, McLaren appeared ready to roll the dice on the alternative strategy. Despite asking its driver whether he preferred the prime or option tyre, it later radioed that 'Plan A' was still viable, prompting Button to reply that he was 'up for that'.
At that stage, the Briton was running third on the road, behind the runaway Sebastian Vettel and similarly distant Fernando Alonso, but holding his own in front of the Mercedes duo and eyeing an elusive podium finish in a difficult season for McLaren.
In the end, however, tyre wear proved too great for Button and, with his left front particularly heavily marked, he was forced to relinquish his dream, once again rejoining in sixth spot.
“We were trying for a one-stop strategy at the start of the race, then we adapted that to a two-stopper later on,” he confirmed, “We gave it a go, but our pace still wasn't quite as good as that of the cars in front of us, so we couldn't really chase them down at the end of the race.
“Having said that, it was decent race for us. Moreover, as always, it was really fun to race around this magnificent circuit – I really enjoyed driving the car today. In terms of performance, there's been a small but definite improvement, so we should be pleased with the progress we've made. I'm pretty happy with the feel of the car now, in fact.
“Okay, there's still room for improvement in terms of pace, but the good thing is that we know which areas we should be focusing on. I'm looking forward to Monza – another great circuit – where, hopefully, we can take another small step. We're not going to be fighting at the front, we know that [but], instead, we're concentrating on ourselves, gradually understanding more about the car, and progressively improving things. There are still a lot of grands prix left this season, and we can enjoy some of them, I'm sure.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh confirmed that a one-stop strategy had been on the cards in a bid to get the best result possible, but remained content with a result that lifted McLaren ahead of Force India in the constructors' championship.
“Jenson made a brilliant start to move from sixth place on the grid to fourth place after the first corner, and thereafter he drove a typically faultless race to finish just 13 seconds behind a podium finish,” he claimed, “At one point, we were considering opting for a one-stop strategy for him, and, if we'd been able to do that successfully, he may well have got that podium finish.
“As things turned out, it wasn't to be but, as I say, he drove an excellent race, and the eight points he scored were richly deserved, lifting our constructors' world championship ranking to fifth place. Clearly, fifth place isn't where we want to be, but it's one place higher than we were this morning. Equally, we're pleased to see firm evidence of underlying improvement in terms of pace. We're still not where we want to be, but the trend is clearly in the right direction.”