Despite a poor showing from the McLaren-Mercedes team at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Martin Whitmarsh, the team's principal, is confident they can bounce back with a strong performance at the Chinese Grand Prix later this month. A disastrous qualifying display left Jenson Button, the world champion, 17th on the grid with Lewis Hamilton starting 20th. While Hamilton was able to finish the race in sixth place and Button in eighth, it was still a below-par weekend for the British team.
But Whitmarsh expects a better showing in Shanghai on April 18 and said: "Our pace was highly competitive all weekend in Malaysia and with a better qualifying performance than we achieved in Sepang we hope to perform strongly in Shanghai." Button is also eager to make amends after he went from hero to zero as a gamble on an early tyre change backfired. Down in 16th in the early stages of the race, he made an early pit-stop to change to the hard tyre on lap 10.
But while he initially made up ground on the cars in front of him, he found he lost grip as the race went on and he had to settle for eighth. Coming just a week after he had taken the credit for the early pit-stop in Australia that had put him in a position to win in Melbourne, the Briton was willing to admit he had been at fault this time. "I felt it was the wrong tyre so it was my mistake," he said. "I am pleased with the result and Lewis did a great job finishing sixth so we got some reasonable points considering where we started."
Button has now fallen to fourth in the title standings on 35 points, but he is only four points off Felipe Massa, the championship leader, and believes the season is shaping up to be a thriller. "Fourth in the championship does not sound as good as third but it has all closed up a lot," he added. "Massa is leading so that is pretty exciting." * Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies