x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Jenson Button ready to take race to Red Bull

The McLaren-Mercedes driver has every confidence he can compete for the top step of the podium for the Malaysia Grand Prix.

McLaren driver Jenson Button will be fourth on the grid in Malaysia.
McLaren driver Jenson Button will be fourth on the grid in Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR // For the first time in 10 years, Jenson Button was outpaced by his teammate during qualifying at Sepang International Circuit yesterday, but the McLaren-Mercedes driver has every confidence he can compete for the top step of the podium this afternoon.

Button was within 0.3 seconds of the pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, a marked improvement on the Woking-based team's pace at the opening race of the season in Australia last month.

Lewis Hamilton was second fastest yesterday, and teammate Button believes both Englishmen can provide their Red Bull Racing rivals with a fierce challenge this afternoon.

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"It looks like it's going to be a fun scrap," Button said. "We're a lot closer to the Red Bulls than I think many people expected and there's a margin over the guys behind us, so hopefully it will be the four of us playing.

"Our starts weren't great in Melbourne. I hope they'll be better in this race and we can really attack into turn one.

"The weather has held off for the past two days and, if it's a dry race, we really should be able to take the race to the Red Bulls."

Hamilton, who missed out on pole to Vettel on the final lap of qualifying, said the Red Bull team still have "a slight edge", but was buoyed by his team's improvement in recent weeks and is adamant that, in time, McLaren can become this season's pacesetters.

"I'm really happy to be up on the front row; clearly we have closed the gap a little bit," said Hamilton, 26, who finished almost 0.8secs behind the reigning champion Vettel in Australia qualifying two weeks ago. "We have a couple of small things on the car that have given us more efficiency.

"Hopefully, I'll have a better start than I did in Melbourne, so we can have more of a fight and I'll get a chance to compete with Sebastian at the first corner and for the first couple of laps.

"I have no doubt that we can overtake Red Bull in the development battle. It's just a question of when. We have to keep pushing to bring new components to the races; we can push this car to the maximum."

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, was equally encouraged going into this afternoon's race and said that he expects both his drivers to "mount a very serious challenge for victory".

He added: "That's certainly what we'll be aiming for. But it'll be close; no doubt about that."