Button banking on repeat of early 2012
21 March 2013
Jenson Button has admitted that a repeat of last year's remarkable run of different winners over the opening rounds of the F1 world championship probably represents his best chance of being able to get back into title contention.
The Briton was downbeat after the opening round of the 2013 series, in Australia last weekend, when his McLaren proved to be off the pace of the other frontrunners. Qualifying tenth fastest led only to a one place improvement in the race, while podium finishes for the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel underlined the potential of Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. Even former McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a positive weekend, finishing in the top five on his Mercedes debut, but Button was in slightly more reflective mood by the time he arrived in Kuala Lumpur for round two at Sepang this Sunday.
Acknowledging that it will take some time to understand the shortcomings of the new MP4-28 – probably until May's first European round in Barcelona at the earliest – and with the team ruling out a switch back to last year's successful MP4-27, Button told Sky Sports News that he needed the victories to be spread between as many drivers as possible if he is to have a chance of remaining in touch with the championship lead. Last year, the first seven races were won by different drivers, with Melbourne winner Raikkonen making it eight different winners by the end of the season.
"One person can't dominate - I'm already 23 points behind the leader so we need different winners every race,” the 2009 world champion conceded, "Even so, if we're picking up one or two points [per race], it's still going to be very difficult.
"However, if Kimi doesn't finish in the points again and the next guy that wins doesn't finish in the points again there might be an opportunity."
For all the talk about reverting to the car that took him to victory in the last race of 2012 at Interlagos, Button agrees that there is no point moving away from the MP4-28 – which is very different to its predecessor – this early in its development.
"It's better to stick to the plan in terms of developing what we have to improve what we have - that's always the way forward," the 33-year old insisted, "We don't know what the future holds but, at the moment, we've got a car and we're trying to make the best of what we have.
"McLaren is a front-running team and they know how to develop cars. We're obviously not where we would like to be, but we do know the curve of improvements, hopefully, will be far greater than what other people can find. It needs to be! For now though, we've got to just focus on finding a good set-up for [Sepang]. It's obviously a very different circuit [to Melbourne] and maybe we won't have such big issues.
Button cited the quality of the MP4-28's ride and the cooler than expected temperatures in Australia as the major problems facing McLaren – both of which should be improved by the smoother tarmac and hotter conditions of Malaysia – but knows that attempts to work on the car could be blighted by forecasts of wet weather for the Sepang weekend.
"For us at the moment, the important thing is to keep working and see what we can do with development and a direction, taking every day as it comes," he said, "This weekend we're not going to be winning grands prix, so it's not suddenly going to come good, but we can find a step forward. It's about developing as much as we can, as quick as we can.
"A few of the midfield teams that would normally be behind us are also very surprised by how quick some of the cars are. And I think that has surprised us just as much, as to how we're not getting the performance we thought we had. I think we have a reasonable understanding of what we need to do, but not 100 per cent.
"I wouldn't use the word 'panic', but we're working hard to get back to the front because this is not where we expected to be and it's definitely not where we should be."