McLaren car not on the button, admit drivers

Jenson Button can already sense this year's Formula One world title may be beyond his reach after an Australian Grand Prix weekend to forget.

Jenson Button

After winning this race three times in the last four seasons, and in the wake of how strongly McLaren finished last year's campaign, hopes were high the team would start on the front foot.

But after taking a radical approach over the winter with a car the team are struggling to understand, ninth place was something of a minor triumph for Button come the conclusion of the 58-lap race at Melbourne's Albert Park.

Starting 10th and a woeful three seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, Button finished one minute and 21 seconds adrift of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen by the chequered flag.

With the second race in Malaysia just a week away, the 33-year-old is not anticipating any change by then, and probably not even for the grands prix that follow in China and Bahrain next month.

"Having won the Australian Grand Prix three times so far in my career - in 2009, 2010 and 2012 - you'd have to say that today's [Sunday's] ninth place isn't really much to write home about," he  admitted.

"Having said that, I think we should be pretty satisfied with what we achieved here in Melbourne. It was a tricky race, and our car isn't yet quick enough, so I think the team did a great job to achieve even as much as we did. 

"As a result, I scored two World Championship points today [Sunday], which makes 1001 in my career I'm reliably informed, and to be honest I don't think I could have scored any more than that. But, although that's a nice stat, it doesn't ease the pain caused by the knowledge that our car still needs a lot of work done before it's properly competitive. 

"Looking forward to Malaysia next weekend, I think we've got a tough few days ahead of us, but hopefully we can now do some number-crunching in an effort to understand our car a bit better and extract a bit more performance out of it there."

An improvement in Malaysia is unlikely and if McLaren head to the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona in early May still scratching their heads, Button can kiss goodbye to any hopes of a championship challenge.

Following a tough opening weekend, far removed from his excitement when the car was unveiled at the end of January, Button said: "It was good to get a couple of points, but it doesn't really ease the pain.

"At this stage we still have to aim for the world championship. That has to be the target when you drive for McLaren.

"But it's going to be very difficult for us from where we are, a lot harder than we thought this year.

"For us to get back to the front, it's not going to be whilst we're racing outside Europe, but we've got what we have and we're going to deal with it the best we can and push hard for improvements.

"With Malaysia next weekend we're not going to do much before then other than hopefully understand the car a little more and extract a bit more performance."

Button naturally trusts the team to turn around what is already a dire situation, but he knows it will not be easy.

"There is a lot for us to do, so it's not something we're going to change overnight, just hopefully sooner rather than later," added Button.

"If we come away from Malaysia with the same sort of points we'll be ecstatic, so that shows where we are, which is not McLaren. We should be further up.

"It's tough for all of us in the team, but we're doing all we can.

"We had bad spots last year, but there is a lot more for us to do to get back to the front than last year."

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has admitted the problems with the car are many, and not just concerning one particular issue.

It has led to suggestions the team may even turn to last year's car that won the last two races in the United States and Brazil.

Whitmarsh is not throwing in the towel on this year's car yet as he said: "We've really got to learn about this car, work the problems out and solve them.

"It isn't good enough at the moment, which is not a good feeling, and although I'm sure we'll get it right, we might not get it right as quickly as I would like."

It was teammate Sergio Perez's maiden race in McLaren colours and the Mexican finished just outside the points in 11th. Later he  agreed with his senior partner's assessment. 

"That was a very, very tough race. I got a good start, which is always a bonus, but, after that, even though the team did a great job with the strategy, we just didn't have enough pace to make significant further progress. Having said that, I nearly managed to score a point, but in the end I couldn't quite get up to 10th place at the end. 

"To finish 11th is never really satisfying, but I think Jenson and I both drove pretty good races today [Sunday]. In fact I want to say 'well done' to Jenson, who maximised the performance of his car really well to finish ninth. Our engineers are aware that our car isn't yet as quick as it needs to be, but I know I'm now part of the best team in Formula 1 so I'm certain they'll improve it fast. 

"Going back to this afternoon's race, I don't think the Albert Park circuit suited our car very well - it accentuated its problems in fact - so I'm hoping we'll be able to put up a better showing in Sepang next weekend. 

"Last but not least, today [Sunday] will always be a very special day for me, because it was the day I made my McLaren debut, which is something that every driver always dreams of. As I say, it would have been even better if I could have scored points, but that'll come soon."

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