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Jenson Button Q&A: McLaren definitely has potential

28 Feb 2014

With every day of pre-season testing it becomes ever clearer just how difficult it is to predict the true form each team will take with them to Melbourne next month. McLaren may not have been setting the world alight, but there is an air of confidence around the team and their MP4-29 car, as Jenson Button explained following his Friday running at Sakhir…

Q: Jenson, how did it go today - the blink of an eye before the season opener?

Jenson Button: Well, it’s a bit hotter than last week - the track is hotter, so the balance is slightly different to last week. And we had a problem with the gearbox, so that limited our running. We did only one long run today - and some one-lap running which is okay - but there is still a lot of work to do. I think the basic car is good, but we are still waiting for some upgrades. This car definitely has potential - and there is a very good feel about it. We have a very good understanding about the power unit and the ERS and the braking. In terms of pace, we haven’t done much set-up work yet - our focus was to put mileage on the car. Tomorrow and Sunday we will start with the set-up work - and then we will know much more.

Q: It sounds as though you are happier with the one-lap performance than with the long-run pace. Is that so?

JB: Last week we felt pretty good on race simulation. This week not so much - so far. But I don’t know what others have done to their cars in terms of upgrade kits. For us, I think we only can go by feel - and in terms of feel there is more work that has to be done.

Q: When you say you’re waiting for upgrades: does that mean for here or for Melbourne?

JB: I am not sure - everything is last minute. It always is. There will be some bits for the next two days but I am not sure that all of it will be here.

Q: Were you surprised by the Red Bull’s performance today?

JB: Not really, because I think if that car goes round it will be quick - it’s just getting it around. Ricciardo was running on soft tyres and I was running on medium, which makes quite a difference. So my guess is that if they can complete a race distance they will be competitive. We are quicker on the straight line and I am sure they know that. We so far were concentrating on driveability - something we definitely didn’t have last year. Now we’ve got that. To be fair, putting downforce on that car is not the easiest thing, but it is easier than building in driveability with downforce. I am not worried about where we are - we do need more downforce, but it is coming!

Q: How much better do you feel now compared to the same time last year?

JB: It is a completely different matter. Last year if you bounced in the right place in a corner you could be quick - could. Now we can do consistent laps and the pace is reasonably good. We have definitely done the right thing with this car over the winter. Hopefully we are ready for the first race.

Q: Is it really that difficult - with all your experience - to see some sort of pecking order?

JB: Actually at the last test I would have said that the Mercedes is very strong on one-lap pace, but the Williams is quicker over a race distance. At this test the Mercedes is still as quick as it was - and the Williams too - but you also now have the Force India that is competitive, and the Red Bull. And Ferrari also looks more competitive than last week. It is changing all the time, so it is important to deal with your own programmes. And we are experienced enough to do that and not be thinking about others. What I think is that a lot of cars will be competitive and it will not be that one-and-a-half second difference that we thought would be the case last week. The grid will be much tighter in Melbourne than expected - which is a good thing after the mess of the first test with eight seconds between the cars. (laughs)

Q: So who do you fear most?

JB: You have to name Mercedes, because they are a big team. Then Williams have done very well over the winter. And never write off Red Bull. If they can put some laps together you can see their pace.

Q: So where do you see McLaren?

JB: I don’t know where we are, though I would say we are in the top five of the teams I think will be competitive. In terms of race prep and understanding the power unit we are in a great place - we’ve done a really good job. In terms of understanding the car: yes, we understand it. Have we done enough set-up work? No. And knowing what comes our way in the race? It is so complicated and we haven’t even thought about race strategy, but I know we are very good at that.