The 2009 world champion says the car is not going to blow the field away, but the nothing scares him about the new MP4-26 in a negative way.
McLaren has a lot to improve, says Jenson Button
LONDON // Jenson Button knows how it feels to step into a dominant Formula One car and leave envious rivals stunned by his lap times.
The Briton did that two years ago, when he tested for Brawn GP at Barcelona in his astonishing 2009 championship winning year, but it is a sensation the 31-year-old has yet to experience with McLaren-Mercedes.
The team started last year off the pace and, with the 2011 season-opener looming in Australia on March 27 and just one more preseason test to come in Barcelona next week, McLaren's new MP4-26 has also failed to set the world alight so far in testing.
"When I first jumped in it [the car] the first reaction was not 'Wow, we're going to blow everyone away'. No," Button said after a day of filming and giving high-speed "taxi rides" in McLaren's new MP4-12C sports car at an airfield circuit in southern England.
"I don't think anyone would have felt that because it's got a lot less downforce, the [Pirelli] tyres are working very differently to the previous [Bridgestone] tyre," he added, attributing much of the difference to regulation changes since last season.
"But there's nothing that really scares me about the car in a negative way, so there's a lot we can improve with this car through general set-up work."
The former champions were the last of the top teams to bring their new car to the test track and it had a troubled debut in Jerez last month, with reliability problems limiting the amount of track time for Button and Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion.
At the subsequent test in Barcelona, they again lost precious time while champions Red Bull-Renault, Ferrari and Renault all looked quick and did double the mileage.
"This year, at the moment, we've had some issues in testing in terms of getting parts to the circuit and a couple of reliability issues, so we've not done as much running as we would have liked, which has hurt our set-up work," said Button.
"But we do have four days and hopefully everything's going to run sweet at the next test, and we get a lot of laps in and we can improve the base that we have.
"There's a lot still to extract from this car that we haven't because we just haven't had time to do it, we haven't got everything together yet, so we don't really know where we are compared to the competition," added the Briton.
Button won two races last year, including Australia for the second year in-a-row, while Hamilton was victorious in three. The Mercedes-powered McLaren ended the season as runners-up to Red Bull and hungrier than ever to turn the tables.
"Of course we'd love to have had more mileage," Hamilton said of the team's testing so far. "I think we've good things coming in the pipeline, and we've definitely improved in the last couple days, we got 107 laps (in one day) at the last test," added the 26-year-old.
Hamilton said the new car was closer to the 2009 one, a chassis that started the season off the pace before rapid improvement, than his 2008 title-winning one in terms of grip due to the new tyres and changed regulations.
However, it was a lot easier to handle.
"The '09 was terrible because the car was hopping, three-wheeling through corners, it was locking up, and it had no downforce," said Hamilton.
"This doesn't lock up, it doesn't three-wheel and it handles really nice, better than last year's car, but it just doesn't have as much downforce ... so that's where it feels weak.
"Hopefully we've got some more downforce coming onto the car before the first race."