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Button admits problems as Raikkonen triumphs
12:16pm Monday 18th March 2013 in Sport
JENSON BUTTON can already sense this year’s Formula One world title may be beyond his reach after an Australian Grand Prix weekend to forget.
After winning this race three times in the last four seasons, and in the wake of how strongly McLaren finished last year’s campaign, hopes were high the team would start on the front foot.
But after taking a radical approach over the winter with a car the team are struggling to understand, ninth place was something of a minor triumph for Button at the conclusion of the 58-lap race at Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Starting 10th and a woeful three seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, Button finished one minute and 21 seconds adrift of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.
With the second race in Malaysia just a week away, the 33-year-old is not anticipating any change by then, and probably not even for the grands prix that follow in China and Bahrain next month.
If McLaren head to the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona in early May still scratching their heads, Button can kiss goodbye to any hopes of a title challenge.
Following a tough opening weekend, far removed from his excitement when the car was unveiled at the end of January, Button said: ‘‘It was good to get a couple of points, but it doesn’t really ease the pain.
‘‘At this stage we still have to aim for the world championship.
That has to be the target when you drive for McLaren.
‘‘But it’s going to be very difficult for us from where we are, a lot harder than we thought this year.
‘‘For us to get back to the front, it’s not going to be while we’re racing outside Europe, but we’re going to deal with it the best we can and push hard for improvements.
‘‘Hopefully we’ll understand the car a little more by next weekend and extract a bit more performance.’’ Button naturally trusts the team to turn around what is already a dire situation, but he knows it will not be easy.
‘‘If we come away from Malaysia with the same sort of points we’ll be ecstatic, so that shows where we are, which is not McLaren. We should be further up.
‘‘We had bad spots last year, but there is a lot more for us to do to get back to the front than last year.’’ Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has admitted the problems with the car are many, and not just concerning one particular issue.
It has led to suggestions the team may even turn to last year’s car that won the last two races in the United States and Brazil.
Whitmarsh is not throwing in the towel on this year’s car yet as he said: ‘‘We’ve really got to learn about this car, work the problems out and solve them.
‘‘It isn’t good enough at the moment, which is not a good feeling, and although I’m sure we’ll get it right, we might not get it right as quickly as I would like.’’ For Raikkonen and Lotus, a team that has made progress in relation to last year, there was understandable elation and the suggestion they could be genuine title contenders.
Earlier in the day, as the second and third sessions of qualifying had been held over due to adverse weather on Saturday, Red Bull’s reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel blew away the field.
But come the race Vettel’s pace was lacking, while Lotus made a two-stop strategy work for Raikkonen compared to the five cars behind him, who all required three.
In the end Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa were second and fourth, sandwiching Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton fifth on his Mercedes debut.
Describing his 20th career win as ‘‘one of my easiest’’, Raikkonen added: ‘‘This feels good, but it’s only one race.
‘‘It doesn’t change our aim and work for this year, but definitely we are happy with the win.”
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