Jenson Button insists that is happy with the progress being made by the McLaren-Honda combination, despite being unable to fight for points for the third race in succession.
The Briton, who went scoreless in both Melbourne and Malaysia, was never in contention for a top ten spot in China on Sunday, despite having taken his car into the upper half of the field during Friday practice. A disappointing qualifying performance saw him start from 17th on the grid in Shanghai and, although he made it to the chequered flag, he did so in 13th position.
Button, mirroring the majority of the field, started on the softer option tyre, producing competitive lap times, which prompted the McLaren team to keep on the same compound at his first stop. A similar performance through the second stint was undone, however, when the MP4-30 struggled with a lack of rear grip on the harder tyre, which Button was obliged to take at his second and final stop, and dropped into the sights of the recovering Pastor Maldonado.
“The option runs weren't too bad, and out pace wasn't too bad at all, but the prime was a little bit trickier at the end,” he confirmed, “I think the temperature of the tyres was dropping a bit in traffic with the blue flags and what have you, so it wasn't easy.
“We're still at the back and the people in amongst us seem to have made mistakes in the race, but it still made our racing fun. I think we are making progress - both the cars ran different strategies in the race, which made it quite interesting as well - and I had some fun out there.
“The first stint was interesting – the Red Bulls had an issue I guess, especially one of them, and we were able to stay reasonably close. The balance is okay, although there's room for improvement and, on the option tyre, we're relatively competitive. On the second stint, I could see some cars in front, although I wasn't able to catch them, but it's better than we expected our race pace to be around here. As I said, we're still at the back, but we're making progress – in terms of lap time, we're definitely making progress – so hopefully there'll be another good step in the next race.”
With Bahrain next up this coming weekend, Button acknowledges that there isn't much time to make up further ground on the opposition, but is looking forward to returning to Europe, where McLaren should be able to make more rapid gains.
“I think Bahrain will be relatively difficult for us but, heading to Europe, hopefully Barcelona is a circuit we'll do better a bit on,” he note, “We do have an upgrade there, which is positive - and interesting – but, every race, we need to improve because we are quite a long way back.”
Despite enjoying a spirited tussle with Maldonado, which saw them swap positions on several occasions, the pair eventually collided on the high-speed entry to turn one, resulting in damage to Button's right-hand front wing endplate. With his car's balance not too badly compromised, the 2009 world champion made it to the finish in 13th place, but was later given a five-second penalty for his role in the accident, which dropped him one spot, behind Carlos Sainz Jr.
While he refused to comment too much on the incident, Button said that he had had 'a good fight' with his rival.
“It's a shame – you never want to crash and I don't do it very often, but it's horrible when you do,” he lamented, “I think I need to speak to the stewards about it before I say too much, but I didn't see it on TV and it's always different from inside the car to what it actually looks like on the screen, so I'll wait until I see it.”