Jenson Button has not ruled out a third straight win in the Australian Grand Prix despite his new McLaren car’s mediocre performance in pre-season testing.
The 2009 champion, in an interview with his team’s official website on Friday, said: “Albert Park has been good to me: I’ve won there for the past two seasons.
“It’s a great circuit for racing, it always seems to create unpredictable races.
“And, perhaps because it’s habitually at the start of the season when a precise pecking order has yet to be established, we often see fast cars running out of sequence — and the excitement that that brings.
“With the added issue of multiple tyre stops, it could be a very exciting and unpredictable race weekend.”
On his prospects for Sunday week’s season-opener he added: “I’m regularly being asked if I can make it three wins in a row this year.
“On paper that might not look likely, but, seriously, who knows? I most definitely wouldn’t rule it out.”
He said he had added motivation this year after the triple trauma suffered by Japan of last Friday’s earthquake, tsunami and radiation scare.
“I go to Melbourne this weekend resolving to not only try my best, but also to salute the brave people, and my many friends, throughout Japan.”
His teammate, fellow Briton and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, conceded that on paper at least, McLaren faced a tough task to cope with the speed shown in testing by the likes of rivals Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
“We can’t hide the fact that testing has been tougher than we expected.
“Our test mileage hasn’t been as high as that of our rivals, nor have we had the outright pace of the fastest cars.”
Hamilton, who won at Albert Park in 2008, continued: “Still, I have a good feeling with MP4-26: I like driving our car, I think it will look after its tyres quite well and I understand that we’ll be making further performance steps ahead of this opening race.
“Nevertheless, we know we go to Melbourne ready for battle: some teams are extremely well prepared — both from a pace and reliability point of view — but that can sometimes count for little in the unpredictable and somewhat chaotic opening races where it’s equally vital just to take points home.
“I strongly believe that, while our preparations haven’t gone as smoothly as we’d have liked, I get the impression that we’ll be arriving in Melbourne with everything finally meshing together – and that makes me really excited.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged that McLaren would not figure among the favourites to win in Melbourne, but he echoed his drivers’ optimism that a decent showing was possible.
He said: “Do I think our testing pace is representative of the pace we’ll show in Australia? No.
“Do I think we head into the weekend as race favourites? Unfortunately, no.
“But do I feel that we have the capacity to surprise a few people and be competitive? Very much so.” — Sapa-AFP