London: Jenson Button is optimistic he can bridge the gap to Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ championship after taking second place behind the Spaniard in last week’s German Grand Prix and has said he heads into this weekend’s race in Hungary confident the team will be able to challenge for victory.
Button lies seventh in the title race, 86 points behind Alonso with teammate Lewis Hamilton in fifth, 62 points back. However, after struggling for pace in the previous two races, the upgrades McLaren brought to Germany have clearly put his car back in contention at the front of the pack.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “It is never easy when you are that far behind, but I am never going to give up, I am going to fight all the way.”
The task is not going to be easy, with Alonso on such superb form and with so little margin between the front-runners, but the British driver observed that a strong push, similar to the one of his championship-winning year where he won the six of the first seven races, would put Ferrari under pressure.
“We might have to repeat 2009 in reverse,” he said. “Win six out of seven races in the second half of the season. That might have to be the case to challenge Fernando but it can happen. Look how he has picked up so many points, but that can soon turn around.
“They have had the consistency but suddenly when you have a fifth or sixth place, that can disrupt the organisation and make a big difference to strategy and things go up in the air. Hopefully, we can push them into that situation.”
Consistency will be key to any challenge, McLaren having lost points in the first half of the season with poor qualifying, technical failures as well as pit-stop problems, and a string of high-placed finishes is essential from Hungary onwards. The race in Germany at least appeared to demonstrate that McLaren’s pit crew is back on top form, pulling off a 2.31sec stop a new world record.
Button will also be hoping to avoid further controversy, as in Germany after Sebastian Vettel’s move on him in Hockenheim was declared illegal and the German demoted to fifth. Button was promoted to second but believes Vettel’s failure to give the place back on track was more costly for his rival. “He thought it was working out for him at the time but obviously the stewards didn’t think it was correct and we got the points and the position,” he said. “It cost Sebastian quite a lot of points. We know what the limits of the track are and we have got to make sure we don’t push our luck too much.”
Had Vettel returned the place to Button he would still have had the final lap to make another move or taken third place, worth 15 points as opposed to the 10 he earned in fifth.
Importantly, though, it was a real team performance in Germany that, along with the upgrades, has left Button keen to go racing in Hungary, a circuit where he has won twice, including his first Formula One victory.
“With some tweaks to the car and a good race weekend, it makes a big difference to my confidence. Nice that it is a back-to-back weekend as well because we have the momentum to take with us,” he said. “We didn’t win but we feel we can go to the next one and challenge. I will wake up with a smile on my face and really look forward to Hungary.”
Elsewhere, Button’s team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, has warned that Red Bull’s alleged use of engine mapping, investigated and declared legal to the letter, if not the spirit of the regulations by the stewards before the race on Sunday could provoke a spending war by the top teams, at the very time methods of limiting costs are being debated.
“If now it is a decision that you are allowed to do that then everyone is going to spend a lot of money to be running that sort of map and will be doing it as quickly as you can,” said Whitmarsh. “If that’s what it’s got to be it’s got to be. Clearly the FIA is frustrated by it, so I think it will be better for there to be clarity and to stop doing it in the future.”
There may be a clarification of the rule before Hungary, with the sport’s technical working group meeting and the Red Bull principal, Christian Horner, accepting that the subject will be discussed.
“I’m sure there is going to be debate about it,” he said. “The regulations are clear, so there could well be further technical directives that are designed to try and further clarify those regulations.”