Q&A : Jenson Button
Q+A: Jenson Button looks ahead to China
Reigning world champion Jenson Button endured a challenging Malaysian Grand Prix at the weekend, securing eighth place at the flag after an equally tough qualifying. Now, after returning home to Woking ahead of next weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, Button casts an eye forward to the race in Shanghai and what his hopes are for round four of the championships.
Q: You made the journey back to Woking to prepare yourself for the Chinese GP – how important was that visit?
Jenson Button: It's important for a number of reasons. It's been my first chance to get back to the MTC since winning in Melbourne two weeks ago, and it's nice to get back and share some of that with the people who made it possible. But coming to MTC is just part of the job. I know that people think it's all about driving the car, but there's a lot of work that goes on back at the factory to make sure that we're as well prepared as we can be when we arrive at the track. I was going to the factory pretty much on a weekly basis through the winter just to make sure that we were preparing for the new season properly. And this week's visit was part of that programme – it's important to debrief thoroughly, and go through everything that happened to work out how to make the car better for the future. So I was doing some simulator work, looking back over the Malaysia weekend to see what we'd have done differently, or how we'd have pursued things if we'd had more time. We also looked ahead to next weekend's race at Shanghai. I feel like we made a little bit of a step in our understanding of the car and I'm looking forward to trying that out during practice in China.
Q: What was the nature of the preparation for China? Are you comfortable in the car?
JB: As I've said, I do feel very comfortable in this car: pretty much straight away I felt at home in the cockpit, but I've also said that I need to go just that bit further to get myself perfectly comfortable. I'm not quite there yet, but one of the amazing things about this team is their dedication towards making things perfect for me. The attention to detail is amazing, and my engineers and I have been working through some very detailed programmes to get myself further dialled into the car. And I think we've been successful with that.
Q: If you're not completely comfortable, you still did a pretty good job of it in Australia!
JB: Absolutely, but that's what I mean – I had the car pretty much to my liking in Melbourne, and the result was extremely encouraging. But the most satisfying thing about the opening three races is the belief that we have a fantastic car beneath us. We've said all along that the MP4-25 is quite a departure from last year's car, and even though I never drove the 2009 car, I know that we've gone all out to develop a car that's more revolution than evolution. And, as a result, we're still working to fully understand the car and how we can bring more performance to it. I think the potential to develop this car is huge, and I know that that's something we are working flat-out to capitalise on. I think we have a very, very strong foundation, but I'm most excited about what will be coming in three, six or 10 races' time – that's what will define where we finish the end of the year.
Q: Nonetheless, it's still a pretty closely fought title battle, isn't it?
JB: It is yeah, it's still really close at the top, which is quite surprising in some ways. I don't think I was the only one who thought that the new points system would reward the fastest drivers more than those who are simply more consistent. But we've seen in the first three races that consistency still counts for a lot. And, I'm told that the championship order at the front would still be unchanged if we were using last year's scoring system, which is interesting. I still think it will take a few more races for us to get a better understanding of the intricacies of the points system, but I still think that consistent finishes will be as important. Fortunately, we've seen that the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is extremely reliable, and I well know from last year that the Mercedes-Benz engines are some of the most reliable on the whole grid, and I can take a lot of positives from that – reliability is the backbone of any championship campaign, and, so far, we've got both cars to the finish of every race – and we're the only top team to have done that.
Q: So what are your hopes for China?
JB: I think that this two-week break will be very useful for all the teams. I think we saw in Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia that all the teams had a few bugs in the system – and you have to expect that after three pretty much non-stop races halfway around the world. For China, I think we'll see the top teams raise their game. I don't think there's any room for under-performance any more. Personally, I am looking forward to a problem-free weekend – I want to qualify well and have a straightforward race, something I didn't manage in either Bahrain or Malaysia. Also, I'm really interested in seeing exactly what our car can achieve on a dry track starting from the front. Malaysia was a little bit of a mixed opportunity for us, but I have every belief that we'll be just as strong, if not stronger in China next weekend.