x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The home discomforts grow for McLaren

Button pins hopes on upgrades for car but teammate Lewis Hamilton says title race is 'finished' and he is not looking forward to Silverstone.

Jenson Button was brought back down to earth in Valencia, where he struggled for pace.
Jenson Button was brought back down to earth in Valencia, where he struggled for pace.

VALENCIA, Spain // The frustrations in the McLaren-Mercedes camp regarding the team's faltering championship challenge are threatening to come to a head as the British team prepare for their home grand prix at Silverstone in 10 days' time.

Jenson Button won an epic Canadian race two weeks ago, but at the European Grand Prix reality returned as he suffered a faulty kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) and finished sixth, more than a minute behind Sebastian Vettel, the world champion.

His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, also struggled on the Valencia Street Circuit, crossing the line 46 seconds after his Red Bull Racing rival to take fourth place.

It was Vettel's sixth win from eight races this season and took the German 89 points clear of Hamilton, the 2008 champion, and 77 points ahead of Button, winner of the drivers' title in 2009.

Both Englishmen appeared terminally downbeat immediately afterwards, while Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, allowed his discontentment to spill over as he lambasted a questioning journalist. He later apologised.

The team's primary concern is improving ahead of the British Grand Prix, but with the English track featuring several high-speed corners it is practically designed for Red Bull.

Indeed, the reigning constructors' champions have won the last two races at Silverstone.

Add to that a fast-improving Ferrari team and the future looks bleak for McLaren in their home race. "We've got to hope for some good upgrades because here we fell behind compared to Red Bull, and also Ferrari." Button said from the Spanish coastal city.

"At the moment Silverstone is not going to be a better circuit for us, so we need the upgrades to really challenge the cars in front.

"We can take some risks with some new parts and hopefully we'll have that when we get there.

"We need to get our heads down and improve the car, the package. Otherwise we're not going to be fighting Ferrari and Red Bull, which will be a shame at my home grand prix."

A morose Hamilton was so pessimistic, he practically conceded the title. "It's finished really. In the sense of the championship it's almost over already," the 26 year old said.

Hamilton finished second at Silverstone last year - behind Mark Webber - but he is not expecting such a performance next month.

"I'm not looking forward to it, I'm really not looking forward to it," the Briton said.

"When you go to Silverstone the desire to win is even greater because it is your home race and the fans are spectacular, but we're not fast enough.

"Of course, I'm really looking forward to seeing the fans because they always put a spark in the weekend and make it that much brighter and I'll be going there as prepared as I can, racing as fast as I can, but we really might struggle."

New regulations imposed by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the sport's ruling body, prohibit the use of off-throttle blown diffusers and Hamilton is concerned it could further hamper his team's chances.

"Personally, I think we're going to make another step backwards," he said." I'm a little bit nervous about it. I think we might be affected more than the two teams ahead of us."

Button demanded his team improve the car's aerodynamics before the next race and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who finished second on Sunday to achieve his best result of the season, echoed his rival's view. Ferrari will arrive at Silverstone with major upgrades, but Alonso was unequivocal when asked what the Italian manufacturers need to develop the most.

"Aerodynamics," he said. "The tyres are the same for everybody, brakes are no different, engines are more or less the same, Kers we all use, so it's all about aerodynamics. I don't think that it's a secret what we are lacking."

The Spaniard's team principal, Stefano Domenicali, assured Alonso that car development will continue, but added the new regulations could effect the race result.

"We will find out if the technical changes recommended by the FIA regarding the use of the exhausts, which are to be introduced at [Silverstone], will change anything or not. Everyone will lose a bit in terms of performance, so it's a case of seeing who pays the highest price."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

@ For more on JENSON BUTTON, visit thenational.ae/topics