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Exclusive Jenson Button Q&A: 2011 promises real racing 18 Feb 2011

Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One Testing, Day 2, Jerez, Spain,  Friday, 11 February 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Jerez, Spain,  Sunday, 13 February 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Jerez, Spain,  Sunday, 13 February 2011

In 2010 McLaren’s Jenson Button was the first of the serious title contenders to drop out of the championship race. Perhaps it was the new team, the new car, or the more challenging team mate. Whatever the cause, for 2011 everything begins again and the race for the title is open to anyone with guts and a good car. That puts the 2009 champion and the MP4-26 clearly in the frame. At Friday’s first day of testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya Button was quietly satisfied - especially given the fact it was only his second session in the car…

Q: Jenson, your second outing in the MP4-26 and P5 in the times - how did the day go for you? Any complaints after your 77 laps?
Jenson Button:
It was a fairly good day today. We’ve been able to go through the programme as anticipated - and that is the only thing that really matters. I did P5 today? If that’s so it must have been a good day indeed as the car was only running its fifth day.

Q: On the eve of the new season, how do you look back on 2010, and what’s changed for you at McLaren, now that you’ve been established there for 12 months?
Last year was a learning year for me. That might sound strange, but it’s true: it was an extremely good learning year, but my focus was still very much about getting to know the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, and learning how they went racing. I won two of the best races of my career and ended last season with a great race in Abu Dhabi, where I finished on the podium. Then I just dived headfirst into this year. I had a good break over the winter, did lots of training, and now I feel fitter and more relaxed than ever heading into the new season. Even though there were no problems fitting in last year, I really feel a lot more integrated within the team than I did at this time last year - and I think that’s a big positive.

Q: The new MP4-26 chassis was unveiled in a very unusual way in Berlin earlier this month. What are your first thoughts on your 2011 car?
Well, it looks the business. It’s still too early to say accurately because, at the moment, I’ve only spent two days in the car, and the second of those wasn’t quite as productive as we hoped.
Nevertheless, it’s looking like a good starting point for the season ahead, but nobody will have a clear idea of where they stand until after qualifying in Bahrain.

Q: The team made the choice to begin testing with the older car, before running the new car in Jerez. Given the fact that the MP4-26 will start into the season with one test less, what workload do the drivers have to undertake - both at the racetrack and back at the factory?
I think it was the right decision to focus all our efforts on getting the new car ready for Jerez. It not only meant we gained a few extra days in the wind tunnel, but it also meant we started testing the new Pirelli tyres on a car we already knew very well: the MP4-25. So we were able to learn about the new tyres behaviour quite quickly because we knew what they were doing to the car, and we knew how the changes to set-up were affecting the tyre. Of course, this time of year is always very busy - both Lewis (Hamilton) and I will be spending time travelling between the test venues and the McLaren Technology Centre, where we’ll be meeting with our engineers and driving the sim(ulator). If I’m not doing that, then I’ll be training - it’s full-on during the winter months.

Q: Have you been able to get a good feeling for your performance and that of the other teams - or are the winter testing times irrelevant until we get to the first race?
Nowadays, it’s even harder to get a good read on relative pace - there are four very different compounds of tyre: you can be running on 20kg of fuel, or on 120kg; you can be using KERS, you can be using the rear wing - it’s almost impossible to look at a lap time and accurately say how that time was achieved. Obviously, it’s hard to resist looking at the timesheet as an indicator of pace - there’s an old saying that the stopwatch never lies - because that’s what you spend all season doing, but that’s never the case in testing. But I quite like the mystery - it just makes it more exciting when we get to the first race!

Q: Tyres will be a key performance factor - what are your initial thoughts on the Pirelli tyres?
Firstly, it’s really exciting to have a new tyre manufacturer join Formula One. I think Pirelli has done a fantastic job in not only speccing their tyre to a Formula One standard, but also in developing the manufacturing and supply infrastructure to make sure all the teams are receiving the best possible treatment. In many ways, it actually feels like Bridgestone never left, because the switch from one tyre supplier to another has been seamless in so many ways. And I think the tyre situation will be really exciting this year - we’re going to see more unpredictable racing, and I think that will be positive for the spectators. Think back to 2005, when tyre changes were banned, and how that played out at the end of races - or look at each year in Canada, when the tyres get destroyed. Those are the best races. I still think the best drivers will win, but I think we’ll see a real battle out on the racetrack, which will be fantastic.

Q: Do you think the 2011 regulations will make the racing more unpredictable?
I definitely think we’ll see more interesting races. But, remember, we were sort of saying the same thing last year - that an oddly-timed safety car might mean that somebody from the midfield could end up winning the race. But that didn’t happen. I think we might see more unpredictable racing - which will be great for the fans - but I still think we’ll see the fastest drivers in the fastest cars ending up at the front by the chequered flag.

Q: Is it easy to adjust to having a couple more buttons in the cockpit - KERS and the moveable rear wing?
It’s been pretty straightforward. I see it as more of an opportunity. We’ve been adjusting a lot of buttons on the steering wheel for a long time now, so I think every driver is used to it. I haven’t actually tried out all the new toys in the cockpit yet, but, as with anything new, I think we’ll all learn to cope.

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