Jenson Button says he doesn’t expect McLaren to pose a challenge to Red Bull in qualifying in the near future.
Speaking during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in he said: “No, not really! , I don’t think any of us know.
“We think they have a lot more downforce than us, but then we don’t understand why they don’t have that pace in the race. It’s a tough one.
“Maybe their car is not so good on tyres, they degrade quicker, maybe, on their car, I don’t know. But in a few of the races this year we’ve been able to race them. But in qualifying we’ve been a long way off.
“So I don’t know. If you look at the difference in pace in qualifying you’d say the difference in lap time is probably about 30 points of downforce. You’re not going to do that for problem six, seven races. So it’s a difficult one in qualifying. I can’t see us, in the near future, beating them in qualifying. Unless it’s a very unusual circumstance – maybe like Monaco.”
He does not expect many drivers in Q3 to try to get an advantage by qualifying on more durable soft tyres instead of super-softs, because he expects the lap time difference to be quite large:
“I’d be surprised in qualifying because the super-soft is a second quicker, probably more. So I don’t think they’ll be many people, maybe people who just get into Q3 – they won’t do a run or they might do a run on the soft tyre. I don’t know.
“But the thing is there’s a lot of testing to do before qualifying and really understand the tyres and which strategy direction we’re going to take.”
Asked whether his driving style would be an advantage during the next three races where softer tyres will predominantly be used, Button said:
“I hope so. The strategy in Turkey didn’t work out, I think everybody initially planned on doing three stops and they went to a four because they damaged their tyres. Sometimes looking after your tyres is a bad thing because you don’t luck into a better strategy.
“But in Barcelona the three-stop and looking after tyres was key and it made a big different to my result after such a bad start.
“With softer tyres here, there’s a reason why they’re softer: it’s because the circuit can take it. But obviously the strategy is very up in the air at the moment and we won’t really know what we’re doing until we get into the race and understand the tyres a bit more. Because people are really changing their strategies over the race distance. I think most cars were look at three stops in Barcelona but ended up on a four.
“So it’s changing all the time and looking after your tyres is important but there’s also areas in the race where you have to push the tyres very, very hard to make a difference. So it’s a difficult balance and we’re still learning.”
He noted that even at Monaco, overtaking would be possible if a driver got into trouble with his tyres:
“In ’09 we started with a soft tyre and I remember Sebastian Vettel was also on the soft and he damaged the rear tyres very quickly. And two cars overtook him: Massa and Rosberg were able to overtake him into Tabac. So there’s a possibility for overtaking.”
Button added that the tyre data gather so far this year would not be useful at the unusual Monte-Carlo circuit:
“All of that information isn’t going to make any difference here. It’s a completely new circuit and very different in the way the tyres will work.
“There’s no high-speed corners and less degradation because of that. But, obviously, we have the super-soft tyres and we don’t really know how that’s going to work yet.”
‘We need to put Sebastian under pressure’
Button won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2009 but he does not expect that to give him an advantage over Vettel, who has not won this race before:
“I think experience always helps around Monaco. But Sebastian’s been around for a couple of years now and he’s been very quick around Monaco. Mark [Webber] did beat him in qualifying and he also had better race pace than Sebastian but I don’t think it’s a bad circuit for Sebastian. I think he’ll be competitive.
“But you might see Mark challenging him more than previous races which is exactly what we need, to put Sebastian under a bit of pressure.
“We never know what’s going to happen when he’s under pressure. Hopefully he’ll make some mistakes.”
Button was also asked about Michael Schumacher and said he thinks the Mercedes driver is finding his comeback a challenge because the standard of competitive has improved since he first retired:
“It’s a very different situation for Michael. While he was at Ferrari, while I was racing in Formula 1, he had a very competitive car. He knew almost every race he went into he had a chance of winning.
“That’s very different to the situation now. For me, over the last 12 years I’ve raced the sport has got more and more competitive in terms of drivers and teams that can fight it out at the front.
“So I think it’s a lot tougher now for a driver who’s spent three years out of the sport to come back.
“I don’t know if Michael is as good as he was when he was in his twenties. I personally think it’s just more competitive, he’s got a very competitive team mate in Nico [Rosberg] and I think he’s doing a pretty good job but he’s not setting the world alight because he’s racing against some very, very talented drivers.”
2011 Monaco Grand Prix
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