Jenson Button admits Mercedes may be uncatchable for 'a long time'
2009 World Champ upbeat on McLaren's prospects and F1 in 2014
By James Galloway in Shanghai and Pete Gill. Last Updated: 18/04/14 2:33am
Jenson Button has conceded that Mercedes are likely to be uncatchable for at least the first half of the 2014 campaign.
In the eager hands of World Championship leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the Silver Arrows' W05 has won each of the first three races of the season and are the overwhelming favourites to prevail in this weekend's Chinese GP.
In Bahrain two weeks ago, the W05, once untethered from behind the Safety Car with ten laps remaining, raced away from the field at a rate of two seconds per lap. Although Button is convinced that Mercedes' margin of speed superiority wouldn't have been quite so pronounced had either a McLaren or a Red Bull, rather than Sergio Perez's Force India, been running in clean air behind the runaway W05s, the 2009 World Champion has admitted that it may be a long time before the Silver Arrows are caught.
"I don't think anyone will get anywhere near the Mercedes for a long time," conceded Button.
"We are bringing updates all the time but for any team to find a second over the next few races is a big ask - and that's with Mercedes standing still and they're not going to do that. It's going to be tough and we have to be realistic about that."
Yet as Button was at pains to subsequently stress, the situation is far from being all doom and gloom - either for F1 as a whole or McLaren.
Having claimed their first podium finishes in over a year at the season-opening Australian GP, the Woking outfit remain third in the Constructors' Championship and, even after the team's double Bahrain retirement, Button admitted that he was a captivated viewer when he sat down to watch a re-run of the last race.
"It was awesome," eulogised Button. "There was some really good team rivalry out there and it was great for the sport. We've had too much talk about the sound of the car but nobody noticed they were quiet when they were cheering at the television. It was one of the most exciting races I've watched."
According to Button, "there's more talent in F1 than there ever has been", and, if you can look beyond the dominant Mercedes cars, the sport is arguably more competitive than it has been in many years with McLaren among a host of teams with a realistic shot at landing a podium finish this weekend.
"We are miles behind Mercedes but we are in a good scrap with five other teams and it's enjoyable," said Button. "We are trying to improve all the time and even half a tenth will make a big difference because of how the grid is. We feel we can develop faster than most teams, but it's important to get points on the board over the next couple of races."
The fact that Button opted out of running in last week's test at Bahrain, leaving driving duties to Kevin Magnussen, was a strong clue that the MP4-29 will be largely unchanged for round four of the championship, but the Englishman is optimistic McLaren will be competitive in Shanghai.
"We were able to do some useful things in the test but most of it wasn't very interesting, which is why I didn't do the test. We have some new things on the car but they are not massive and if you're not into the detail of a Formula 1 car you won't be able to see them, but there are some improvements for this circuit so we'll come here with more confidence."
Sunday's race, exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, starts at 8am UK Time.