Button vows to address qualifying weakness

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Jenson Button, McLaren, Abu Dhabi, 2010

Jenson Button says he will focus on improving his qualifying performances in 2011.

He told his official website:

I’ll be putting additional focus on qualifying for 2011. This year, I think I’ve had some very strong Sunday afternoons, but I probably haven’t always made life as easy as I would like on Saturdays. And we know how crucial that is in modern Formula 1 ? if I can get qualifying sorted, then I think we can have an even stronger season next year.

Over the winter, it will be a case of sitting down with my engineers, looking at how we can move the car a little bit closer to me when it’s on low-fuel and how we can just extract that final tenth from it during Q3.

That’s the great thing about the winter: after such a long and intense season, it offers you the opportunity to have a closer look at everything away from the intensity of a fortnightly race schedule.
Jenson Button

He only out-qualified team mate Lewis Hamilton four times in 19 races in 2010 (Hamilton started behind him once more due to a penalty).

Button was back on the podium for the first time in five races at Abu Dhabi and said he was pleased with the car’s performance in the final race:

It was an extremely satisfying race, and it was a fantastic season. To qualify fourth, race hard, run at the front and finish on the podium in the final race of the season not only demonstrates a few things to me personally, but it also shows that, as a team, we have the momentum and fighting spirit to take us into the winter feeling very positive.

On a personal level, it was a real positive to qualify in the top four ?it showed that, with a car in which I feel comfortable, we can crack qualifying. In fact, we made a very good step in general with that process over the weekend, which leaves me feeling encouraged for more in 2011.

The car was fantastic all race. We made quite a bold decision to run long in the first stint, but it definitely worked for me. It would have been nice to have bowed out with another victory, but the result was good for the team in general: we managed to get some new parts working properly and they, in turn, helped us to secure second in the constructors’ championship.
Jenson Button

The outgoing world champion added he was very happy with his first season at McLaren:

It’s really been a fantastic year. It’s hard to think that I only joined this team at the start of the year ? I’ve been made to feel so welcome, and such a part of the team, that it feels like I’ve been here far longer.

Obviously, the highlights for me were the two wins earlier in the season ? in Australia and China ? but there have been plenty of other highlights: I had some very strong races in Turkey and Canada, and almost took another win at Monza. There are plenty of positives to take away from the year.

The relationship with Lewis, my engineers and my mechanics also worked out really well. I do feel part of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes family now. And, like I say, to end the season with two drivers in the top three is very encouraging.
Jenson Button

2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
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    38 comments on “Button vows to address qualifying weakness”

    1. I didn’t realise it was as poor as only 4 times outqualifying Hamilton. I think he’s actually been unlucky this year. He was on for a podium at Spa. Think what those 15+ points would have done for his confidence and the Championship battle…

    2. How often did he beat Hamilton in the races this year?

      1. I think only 3 times, excluding retirements.

        Australia and China obviously, and also later in Japan.

        1. So, basically, outside of tire strategy screwing Hamilton, or a Hamilton car technical issue, never.

          No one who said that Button would not be a match for Hamilton this year has to make any amendments to that view.

          Button is about as good a #2 for McLaren as was Coulthard. That may be more than good enough when the car is excellent, but when you absolutely need .3s on Saturdays to get into a race-contesting position on Sunday, its not good enough. I still think they should have put Webber or Rosberg in that other car this year, both of whom have more raw speed.

          1. So, basically, outside of tire strategy screwing Hamilton…

            I don’t buy that tyre startegy screwed Hamilton. Tyre strategy won Button those races, it didn’t lose them for Lewis. He also beat Lewis in Monza and Singapore, which he did by not crashing, but that’s another issue.

            When you break down the stats like this it looks worse than it is. Jenson finished quite close behind Lewis on many occasions and was mainly let down by poor qualifying. If he could beat him on a saturday more often then IMO the close nature of the results show that he could beat him on a sunday more often too.

            1. He let himself down by poor qualifying. Ironically, his poor qualifying also forced him into making bold strategies that paid dividends.
              Another myth is that Button is easy on the tyres, he has had to change tyres more often because the set he was on were basically destroyed.

          2. I think Hamilton had a problem with Rosberg joining the team. Hamilton should be happy with Button for next year. This year if it wasn’t for 2 lucky strategic calls, and a gearbox problem for Lewis in Japan, Button would have had only one result better than his teammate (monza). We all know Lewis would hate for Mclaren to actually adopt their philosophy of hiring 2 of the best drivers on the grid.. the team would be happy with Button as the number 2 driver.

          3. You say that as if Coulthard was a bad #2. He generally had the measure of Barrichello even when Schumi beat Hakkinen, and scored a win in pretty much every season the car was capable of it.

        2. He had Hamilton beat in Italy too. But Hamilton had him beat in Japan before the replacement gearbox went. So still 3.

    3. I think Button has really showed that he is no joke. Many people wrote him off from the moment the news broke that he was moving to McLaren. He has somewhat proved them wrong. People thought he was going to be left for dead and that he would finish well behind Hamilton.

      He hasn’t had the best qualifying, and its great to see Button owning up to this as drivers can often have a tendancy to blame the car or the tyres for this. I think it is really refreshing to see someone who is positive about his sport, and always looking to improve.

      He didnt have much say in the design of the car, but next year he will, and I feel this will make a huge difference in his performance.

      Having said all this, going against Hamilton is a huge task for any driver. I think it will be even closer next year between the two with Hamilton hopefully learning from his mistakes this year with risky overtaking moves, and Jenson learning to put his car further up the grid.

      1. I cannot see Button driving any better than he did this season, and I cannot see Hamilton getting any more unlucky, or, making more mistakes than he did this year. Thats the only reason it was so close between the 2 Mclaren drivers. I expect Jenson to get absolutely destroyed next year.

        1. That’s what lots of people said last year: where are they now ?

          I only see that JB is just a victory away from Lewis, after 19 races. Can that be pure luck ? Just like last year’s championchip was pure luck ?

          JB has had his share of bad luck too: SPA obviously, Monaco too…

    4. Problem for Jenson is, this is not something that can be gained through rigourous analysis and hard work. It’s down to natural talent I believe… don’t get me wrong, he’s amazingly talented, but just a tiny step below drivers like Hamilton and Vettel. No amount of hard work can compensate for this.

      1. I don’t feel this is the case at all. Jenson’s issue is getting the car setup and the balance right for him in low fuel conditions. This is compounded for him due to his style and small window of car handling he can extract the speed out of. If he can get the car into his window in low fuel he would be quite formidable in qualy.

        Of course, because the others have a large window of handling they can drive the car in, they manage to be more consistently at the top.

        1. If a driver can only get the best out of the car in a smaller window, doesn’t that basically confirm he’s not as able?

          Jenson’s biggest misfortune has basically been to be at the top at the end of his career rather than the beginning. Even 2006 Schumacher wasn’t as good as 1998 Schumacher.

          1. If a driver can only get the best out of the car in a smaller window, doesn’t that basically confirm he’s not as able?

            Maybe in some ways. Hamilton obviously pushes the car’s limits more and finds the ‘sweet spot’ quicker for his own style and set-up. But Button impresses me with his overall race pace, usually improving his position during the race, strong at the end, and his ability to overtake when really needed. Catching Alonso off the grid at Abu Dhabi was a good example. So too his overtaking under pressure at Interlagos 2009. Just don’t know how they resolve the understeer/oversteer preferences without compromising (no expert, at all, maybe it’s possible).

      2. Not entirely as simple as that. Hard work and persistence generally outweighs talent at the end of the day. On top of that, there is nothing to say that Lewis has infact got more talent than Jenson. They have both been in a race winning car for around about the same amount of time (Jenson a little less than Lewis), and both of them have won 1 WDC.

        Remember Button had no influence on the direction of development during pre-season. He had to drive a car which was built to Hamiltons style of driving. While Lewis is an aggressive oversteer driver, Jenson likes a more balanced car.

        No doubt the car looked as if it was lacking in terms of rear grip (giving it oversteer), which is why the new rear wing made such a huge difference in the last race.

        oversteer allows you to go quicker when the car is light because you dont need much rear wing to stop the rear from dancing. When your car is topped up, the rear end is heavier and more likely to dance and create over-steer. To fix this you add rear wing. Its a tough one to beat, because the lighter your car becomes, the less you need rear wing. So the team needs to decide if they are going to be quick in low fuel qualifying (less rear wing), or quick in the race (more rear wing). I believe Jenson had higher levels of rear wing, slowing him down in qualifying, but giving him a good solid race pace.

        1. The team had quite often said the car favours Button’s driving style more than it does Hamilton.

        2. According to Paddy Lowe the car was not built around Lewis’s driving style. It was developed as a neutral car in order for development to be flexible throughout the year. Unfortunately they did not get it right. I’m not sure that a car developed around either drivers driving style could have made much of a difference this year. I don’t think McLaren have a Adrian Newey in the closet.

        3. I actually think Lewis’ driving style has become smoother over time and it’s actually for the better. He may not be the runner up like in 2007, or the WDC like in 2008 but 2010 has seen Lewis driving the best he ever has.

      3. I do not agree ther John. I think that Button will be better in understanding his team and take better setup routes next year.
        Remember, the first couple of events he was still learning how the team works (as was FA) and he had a tad less testing due to having to get his seat right etc. at the start of testing.

        He also has a better chance to have the car offer him a bit better window where is OK with it.
        He might not have the outright talent of a Hamilton. But he knows himself and has enough experience to mix it right at the front if McLaren build a fast car he can use effectively.

        1. Fair enough. I guess it’s hard to say without knowing what’s been going on in the team first hand this season.

          I love Jenson and his tactical nous, but personally I don’t think he can get much better at one lap qualifying than he did this season. But, I’m ready to be proved wrong $:)

    5. How next years tyres work for Jenson could be key to his saturdays. He used to be able to qualify extremely well with the Michelin tyres but he seems to have struggled more with the Bridgestones.

      If the Pirelli’s turn out to wear more then I think he’ll get stronger in races but he still may struggle in quali. The main problem is that Vettel, Hamilton and Webber are renowned for their qualifying strength and Alonso’s no mug either, so the bar for Jenson is very high.

      1. Actually I don’t think it would hurt him at all in qualifying. Probably the opposite in fact, because he will be able to nurse them without struggling to heat them up.

        If only we had tyres that performed the same but differed in terms of getting them up to speed and how fast they wore out, then drivers wouldn’t be so dependant on what tyres were available. You’d probably never get it to a perfect balance but I’m sure if the money (ha) was there it could be achieved thereabouts.

      2. I think you are right, about the Pirelli tyres potentially making a big difference next year.
        Think about the times someone wrecked their tyres early, or to late this year (not to mention Massa struggling to get heat in the harder compounds which were tough to get right for Button and Schumacher as well this year).
        I think Webber said he got it wrong there in Abu Dhabi with doing 2 laps, his tyres being at their optimum speed in the first lap and already past in the second.

    6. ” I do feel part of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes family now”
      I do hope that their partnership stays for a long time.

      1. I’m just glad my family doesn’t have such a long surname!

    7. ‘to end the season with two drivers in the top three is very encouraging.’

      uh, is BUT talking about red bull? he and HAM finished 4th and 5th!

      1. He’s talking about Abu Dhabi…

    8. Honourable of the guy to hold his hands up and say look i’ve been rubbish at qualifying and that’s my weakness. I would also attribute this to driving a car that was designed around Lewis mostly and being in that ‘zone’ and at one with the car is going to be hard in that respect.

    9. Well this is somewhat cruel to point out, but most of the time Button was also slower than Hamilton during the race.

      To continue my cruelty, just looking at this last race “On a personal level, it was a real positive to qualify in the top four it showed that, with a car in which I feel comfortable, we can crack qualifying”. In fact Button was 0.4s behind Hamilton in qualifying. That is about the same margin which saw him out in Q2 in Brazil (0.37s), so what he is really saying is that with a fast car he can qualify well… During the race Button was 5s down when Hamilton pitted. That was a big enough margin to mean he could not he could not make up the place despite what turned out to be a better strategy.

      In Button’s defense, he showed once again that he is a very capable overtaker, which is what helped him win the title last year. He also does not take the same amount of risk as Hamilton, which means less mistakes even though he is slower. In the 2nd half of the race, once he has safely learnt the limits, he is generally very quick and I would say able to extract the maximum from the car. This reminds me somewhat of Kimi Raikkonen.

      (Completely off topic, thanks to Firefox’s spell checker, I just learned that learnt is not an american-english word.)

      1. Jenson Button got the second fastest lap of the race at Abu Dhabi, after Lewis Hamilton.

      2. That learnt/learned spelling bugged me too on the Hamilton article (the next one)!

    10. I think Jenson was much better than many people are making out. He won 2 races when the car was rubbish – and while you may call it “lucky strategic calls”, it doesn’t matter how you get the points, Jenson did something that Lewis didnt do and he ended up in front of him. I dont think theres a driver on the grid, other than Kubica, who could have done much better than Button this season.

      Just look at what happened when double world champion and “most complete driver on the grid” Alonso went up against Hamilton (rookie-spec) and Alonso was lucky to end the season level on points with Hamilton. Button has gone up a Lewis Hamilton with 3 years more experience, a world championship under his belt and firm integration at Mclaren, and he has ended up less than a win behind him in the standings. Says it all.

      1. There’s no major criticism here about Jenson in races, this article is about his qualifying pace. Actually, in the races he was very very unlucky at both Spa and Monaco.. he could have finished ahead of Hamilton if anything.

    11. Hang on a minute. Let’s get a bit of perspective here. Are there honestly people out there that think Button is a better driver than Hamilton?

      Better personality – yes
      Better looking – yes
      Better driver – um, not a chance.

      Keith ran a brilliant artice a month or so back that had the drivers’ “theoritical” best points position, barring failures/luck. Everyone’s points position, particularly Hamilton and Vettel, showed a significant improvement were these factored out. Button’s points position actually went down…..

      Everyone’s had their share of bad luck but Hamilton had:
      – Spain and Hungary mechanical failures
      – Japan – mechanical problems which cost him one place and possibly two
      – DNF in Singapore thanks to Mark “I always outbrake myself when i’m in a dog fight” Webber
      – Australia: another couple of places lost thanks to the man above crashing into him again (not to mention the awful McLaren strategy).

      Button is a good driver, just not in the same league as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel.

      Come on – when someone complains about their qualifying pace we all know what it means. They aren’t as fast as their team mate.

      1. I don’t think any of the comments I’ve read here have claimed Button to be faster than Hamilton, quite the contrary. Just that Button is not being punished like the “Button Bashers” predicted before the start of the season.

        I think at best all that is being said is… With this first season under his belt, the winter to help develop the car for both him and Lewis, and more focus on his issues around qualifying, it’ll be a lot closer next year with Button maybe springing the odd surprise.

        In summary… Button is a much better driver than people give him credit for, not as good as Hamilton or Alonso, but not that far off either.

    12. I expect to see Button doing much better in qualifying next season. He finished close behind Hamilton in the championship and should have been much closer, had it not been for two errors that were not of his own doing.

      Hamilton ‘is’ slightly quicker, but also more likely to throw it away needlessly or make decisions like: “I need to come in to change tyres”, thoughtlessly.

      I predict another tight battle between two drivers that have different driving strengths.

      And maybe those Pirelli’s will actually heat up quicker and need looking after.

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