Wednesday, May 12

Button plays down chances


McLaren’s world champion warns fans not to expect repeat glory in Sepang

SEPANG: A confident but realistic Jenson Button warns he is unlikely to match his dazzling maiden triumph for McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix with a similar performance this weekend.

CONFIDENT AND REALISTIC: McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (front) of Britain along with Button test a live video handset, Kangaroo TV, on the pit lane in Sepang. — AFP photo

CONFIDENT AND REALISTIC: McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (front) of Britain along with Button test a live video handset, Kangaroo TV, on the pit lane in Sepang. — AFP photo

Although the Englishman conceded that he is ambitious to break the pattern of recent years by successfully defending his 2009 drivers’ crown, he balanced that by saying he felt that the Sepang circuit will not suit his car.

“Well, it is a very long season isn’t it?” he said.

“And of course you are always thinking that the title is on. That’s why everyone wants to win the opening race because usually the guy who wins that race goes on to take the championship.

“I did it last year, but this year I want to be an exception to that rule.

“All champions want to keep their titles, but only 30 per cent of the drivers in F1 have done it. It is not easy. And especially this season against so many exceptional drivers and teams.”

Button added that he was happy with McLaren’s start to the season and their performances in the opening two races.

“We know we don’t have the real raw pace that Red Bull have shown. Not yet anyway, but we have picked up some good results. We have collected good points,” he said.

Looking ahead to the Malaysian Grand Prix, which he won in a downpour last year when the race was stopped and he was awarded half points, Button was cautious.

“We won in Melbourne but that does not mean we can win in Sepang,” he said.

“I am not sure we can do it again. I hope we can, but I am not thinking that way. It does not work like that. But obviously I hope we find the right performance and go on to keep scoring points.”

Button, like many observers, believes Red Bull will be the favourites again after Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber dominated qualifying last weekend and filled the front row of the Melbourne grid.

“When they get it right, they will be so tough and they will be very quick,” he said, adding that he believes McLaren will also be strong in the “development war” that will intensify when the teams return to Europe.

“We’re only two races in, but I think the development race will already be starting to have an influence on performance. It’s the rate of improvement that will most influence the battle at the front.”

While Button played down his chances at Sepang, his McLaren teammate, 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, was confident his car would be competitive. “I think we’ve got a car that will be far better suited to the circuit than we did last year, so I’m in Malaysia optimistic of a good result,” he said.

The Briton added that after talks with the team, he now understood why he was called in for a controversial mid-race pit-stop last weekend. Hamilton earlier said it cost him a podium finish.

“The team has explained to me their reasoning behind the second pit-stop, and I can understand what they were trying to do,” he said.

He also scotched claims that he was upset that Button won.

“Every win is special. You always love to win, but if it can’t be for me, then I want it to be my teammate. That’s why I was delighted for Jenson.”

As McLaren looked forward, Mercedes GP boss Norbert Haug was forced to defend seven-times champion Michael Schumacher’s early form.

The German has been beaten by teammate Nico Rosberg in qualifying and both races this season, but Haug is certain he will rediscover his old form.

“He has still got it all and I believe we have one of the strongest driver pairings in the field. It is up to us to improve the package for them,” said Haug.

While McLaren should be in the running, this weekend’s race could be dominated by a battle between the fast Red Bulls and the consistent Ferrari outfit led by two-times champion Fernando Alonso.

Further down the field, local eyes will be on the new Lotus team in its home race as they work to establish themselves as the best of the three new entries this season. — AFP