Jenson Button admitted that it was 'frustrating' to have finished just one place out of the points in the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix night race at the weekend – an event that had seemed to offer Honda the possibility of registering its first points in six outings in 2008.
Having lapped comfortably and competitively inside the top ten in each of the free practice sessions around the all-new Marina Bay Street Circuit, and after qualifying a solid twelfth – his best grid spot since the similar street venue of Valencia – Button had hopes of breaking into the points-scoring positions for the first time in more than five months come race day. Lady Luck, however, had other ideas.
“It was one of those races where luck and the timing of the safety car could make or break your race,” the 28-year-old reflected afterwards. “Unfortunately luck was not on our side, and the timing of the two safety cars hurt our two-stop strategy.
“In addition to that, we were just not competitive or quick enough as I was struggling for balance for much of the race. To finish in ninth position is always frustrating, as you are just outside of the points.”
Still, at least the British ace enjoyed better fortunes than team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who was forced to drop out of contention with engine woes 15 laps in, just as Honda had manoeuvred the experienced Brazilian into contention for points by dint of cannily bringing him in for his first re-fuelling stop after anticipating the appearance of the safety car brought out for Nelsinho Piquet's impact with the wall two tours earlier.
“Coming into the race from 18th on the grid, we were obviously hoping for any eventuality to help us move further up the order,” the 36-year-old confessed. “That opportunity came on lap 14 when my engineer made a brilliant call following Piquet's crash. I came into the pits just before the safety car was called and when I rejoined I would have been in a strong position – but then the engine just died.
“I had lots of fuel on-board and my place was great because I had good pace and was keeping up with the whole group in front of me, so we could have had a great end to the race. We lost a great opportunity, and obviously I feel very sad about that.”
The Brackley-based outfit's team principal Ross Brawn remained all-too aware after the chequered flag had fallen that Honda had missed a golden opportunity to add to its 2008 tally in Singapore – with points few and far to come by this year as the recalcitrant and unloved RA108 has proved to be a handful for both Button and Barrichello season-long.
“We decided to put the cars on two different strategies,” the English former Ferrari tactical genius explained, “the rationale for which was in part due to the predicted safety car outings. The first safety car played into the hands of Rubens and those on a similar one-stop strategy. Moreover, on the pit wall we anticipated that the safety car would be called out and brought Rubens in to re-fuel him before the flags went to yellow.
“We would have been in an extremely good position for the balance of the race; however, he stopped shortly after leaving the pits with an electrical problem. In as much as that situation helped Rubens, that was the safety car window that hurt people on the same two-stop strategy as Jenson. He was forced to pit with the pack, which handed the advantage to one-stoppers.
“Later in the race the traffic situation was such that Jenson was unable to improve, so we decided to pit him early for his second pit-stop, and he was one of the first cars to fuel to the end of the race. This was purely a gamble in anticipation of another safety car, which did eventually come but it was too late, and unfortunately the timing was such that Jenson simply had a heavier car as a result.”