11 March 2014
Button: F1 questions still to be answered in Australia
Jenson Button believes F1's new technical era can help McLaren bounce back from last year's misery at the Australian GP.
Jenson Button returns to one of the most successful venues of his lengthy F1 career hoping that he can erase the painful memories of a 2013 season that failed to yield as much as a podium for the McLaren team.
The Briton has won thrice on the streets of Melbourne, including triumphing in his first outing for McLaren back in 2010, but struggled through last year with a car that the team admitted had been ill-conceived and was nowhere near a rival for the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Fortunately, the MP4-29 appears to be a more competent beast, even if pre-season testing has yet to mark it out as the one to beat. With the established pecking order torn up by the introduction of a new set of technical regulations, however, the opening round – and potentially much of the 2014 season – appears more unpredictable than any race for a long time, giving Button cause for optimism.
“I think this year's Australian Grand Prix is going to be an absolutely fascinating sporting contest,” the 34-year old confirmed, “Even with stable regulations, Melbourne is usually unpredictable but, this year, I don't think anybody knows quite what to expect.
“Will we see more than half the field at the end of the race? Will we see good, close racing? Will the pecking order pan out as we expect? Those are all questions that we've yet to see answered, and part of what makes for such a fun weekend.
“In terms of performance, while there's plenty of potential within MP4-29, we still think it'll take a little time to unlock that promise. It's not quite where we'd like it to be, so I don't think we go to Melbourne with a package that accurately reflects our progress with the car – it'll take a little longer for that to become apparent.
“Nonetheless, I do think the potential is there. The MP4-29 has given us what last year's MP4-28 didn't, namely a reliable and predictable platform upon which we can build and develop. In every respect, this year's car feels different to last year's, and that makes me excited – which is exactly as things should be as you head off for the first race of the year.
“In general, this season is going to be all about continuous development. Our stated aim has always been to try and scoop up a useful haul of points from the opening races – by virtue of solid engineering and good reliability – and then to quickly refine and develop the package, and deliver further performance in due course.”
Button, now a veteran of 247 grands prix, is not alone in looking forward to Melbourne, and not just for the racing. The city has been F1's regular starting point for almost two decades. Its narrow run-offs, low grip surface and unpredictable weather, allied to the fact that it offers the drivers their first chance to blow away the cobwebs after the long winter break, means the Australian Grand Prix is invariably frantic.
“The other element that I enjoy about this race is the atmosphere and vibe that you always get in Melbourne,” the Briton confirmed, “It's a beautiful city, a place I always love visiting – in fact, I get there early enough to settle my body-clock and to do some training ahead of the grand prix. The fans at the circuit are always passionate, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, so it's a great place to start what will, hopefully, be a fantastic year.”
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