Jenson Button didn’t win the championship this year, nor was he even in the running by the time of the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, he seems extremely content at his new team, McLaren. At the post race press conference for podium finishers at Abu Dhabi, he was noticeably more chipper than McLaren team mate, Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, who finished second, had been mathematically in the running for the title at the start of that race, so perhaps he had more to be glum about.
Button, on the other hand, who finished third, had already resigned himself to the position of also ran. And as things stood, he must have felt fortunate to have finished ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull’s Mark Webber, both of whom fell victim to ill-timed pit stops, and finished further down the pecking order.
Happiest of all, of course, was Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who walked away with the race win and the championship. But while Vettel was savoring the moment, and Hamilton was probably trying to sort out just what had gone wrong this season, Button, I think, was already looking ahead to next season.
Button knows that Lewis Hamilton got the better of him this year. He can tell himself that it was down to the fact that he’s a McLaren newbie, and still trying to get acclimated. He knows he’ll have added pressure next year to prove that he’s Hamilton’s match. That said, I think he’s enormously comfortable at McLaren. While most Continental drivers seem to harbor an ambition to one day drive for Ferrari, the Brits seem to regard McLaren as their ideal team.
I think it’s not just because of the team’s storied past, either. I think it has more to do with his belief that McLaren will be able to stay on the cutting edge of technical developments in a consistent way, and deliver him a car that will enable him to fight for a second title. Button himself said that when he first visited the McLaren Technology Centre at Woking he instantly became smitten with the team.
Fernando Alonso probably had a similar feeling when he visited the Ferrari factory at Maranello for the first time, but in Alonso’s case the feeling was probably derived more from the fabled Ferrari mystique. In Button’s case, he was probably more awed by McLaren’s technical resources. For most people who visit the Woking facility for the first time seem to react as though they’ve just taken a tour of the Pentagon.
It’s no wonder that Button is already stating his faith in McLaren’s ability to regain their competitive edge for 2011. As reported in Autosport recently, Button thought that the Woking squad might get the jump on the rest of the field next year due to the return of KERS technology. While McLarens, both in 2009 and 2010 suffered from a lack of grip, they benefited from enhanced straight line in both years owing to KERS (in 2009) and their F-duct device (in 2010). In both cases, these enhancements seemed to give the McLarens an edge they didn’t necessarily deserve.
Button is confident McLaren will continue the trend. “We don’t have the F-duct next year, which is a bit sad because we have a great system,” he said. “I’ve never driven with KERS before, but this team used KERS last year and used it well. I know because they kept coming by me at the start!”
Apparently McLaren’s KERS technology was developed in conjunction with Mercedes, when the manufacturer still owned a 40% stake in the team. This was the implication, at any rate, when Button indicated that all of the Mercedes-powered teams would be able to build on the same KERS platform that had been established in 2009. Referring to McLaren’s KERS program, he said, “They have so much experience in that area that I think we’ll have an advantage, as will Mercedes and Force India, who use Mercedes engines. We’ll have an advantage on Red Bull and Ferrari I think, which is great. We’ll take every advantage we possibly can.”
Button went on to comment on another rule change for next year. The FIA, as usual, has not been satisfied to leave well enough alone. Just when teams had become accustomed to using driver-adjustable front wings, those wings have now been outlawed. Instead, for 2011, drivers will now be able to adjust their rear wings from the cockpit.
“We’re only going to be able to adjust the rear wing for overtaking, when we’re within a second of another car, so it’s not going to help the balance,” Button said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re losing the adjustable front wing, that’s going to make the balance very difficult. We’re running 150kg of fuel at the start of the race and 5kg at the end, so we’re going to have very difference balance and it’s going to be tough for us – you’ll see a lot of cars oversteering and understeering, and not being able to change it.”
Whether it’s the front wings that can be adjusted from the cockpit, or the rear wings, Jenson Button has faith that McLaren will be able to make the most of the new technical regulations. Perhaps now more than at any other time during his career (and he’s now considered a seasoned veteran) he seems to be optimistic about the future of his team. And remember, this is a man who has driven for Williams, Renault, Honda and Brawn. Time will tell if he will be able to win another title. Certainly he will win more races. And certainly McLaren will give him a car that will somewhere at the head of the grid.