A tough race for both McLaren drivers

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Japan, Circuit Suzukajp

Lewis and Jenson didn't have their best of days at Suzuka, both struggling with different problems. Lewis Hamilton had a strong race until a gearbox issue slowed him down, while Jenson Button had the tyres play slightly to his disadvantage.

Jenson Button, MP4-25A-01:
Q1: 8th, 1m32.636s (on Primes), Q2: 4th, 1m31.763s (on Primes), Q3: 6th, 1m31.378s (on Primes)
Started: 5th, Finished: 4th, Fastest lap: 1m33.529s (+0.055s) 2nd
Pitstops: One: on lap 38 (Pri-Opt)

“At the start of the race, the drivers in front weren’t struggling on the Option tyre as much as we’d expected. So we were a little bit compromised, and I think we stayed out too long for our first stint. As soon as we saw the others were quick on the Option, and I wasn’t able to pull a gap, or pressure anyone in front, maybe it would have been sensible to pit at that point and fit the Option. We’ll go away and look at the data, and the reasons for it.

“It was a tough race on such old tyres, but it was fun once we’d fitted the Option; the car felt great – I had a lot of grip, and the car was very fast. Still, we weren’t quick enough today to beat the Red Bulls and possibly the Ferrari. And I don’t think we’d have finished any further up.

“I’m in the same championship position as I was before this race, so the title’s getting more difficult. We came here with a lot of different new parts – some of them worked really well, while others need a bit of work. We’ve just got to hope that when we put the new package on the car in Korea, we get the best out of it. For the next race, we’ll hopefully have the performance we’d expected to have here.”

Lewis Hamilton, MP4-25A-02:
Qualifying: Q1: 12th, 1m32.809s (on Primes), Q2: 3rd, 1m31.523s (on Options), Q3: 3rd*, 1m31.169s (on Options)
Started: 8th, Finished: 5th, Fastest lap: 1m35.182s (+1.708s) 9th
Pitstops: One: on lap 22 (Opt-Pri)

“This wasn’t a great weekend for me. I made a mistake on Friday, then we changed the gearbox yesterday and I got a grid penalty, and then I had another gearbox problem in the race. That’s an unfortunate amount of collective bad luck, but the team and I will bounce back.

“With the gearbox, I was running normally, then downshifted into third, accelerated and lost the gear. After that, I had to rely on just fourth gear and above. I didn’t think the car would make it – it was making a lot of strange noises, but I kept my fingers crossed, tried not to shift too much and looked after it to the flag. I’m thankful and so happy that I least saw the end of the race – it’s my first finish for a long time.

“The championship doesn’t look great at the moment. But there are still three races to go and 75 points available, so we’ll remain optimistic and keep doing the best job we can. I’ll keep fighting.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
“The biggest positive we can take away from today’s result is that both drivers clearly demonstrated significant pace against that of our rivals – and that’s a motivating force that we’ll take with us into the final three races of the championship.

“Obviously we played the long-game with Jenson, who was the only frontrunner to start on Primes. Ultimately, that strategy didn’t come off as best we’d have liked because the others’ Option tyres didn’t fall away as quickly as we’d anticipated. Still, we feel it was a strategic choice worth taking. After switching to Options, Jenson showed excellent pace, and I think we had the second fastest car today.

“Lewis did a great job, consistently closing the gap to the car in front before encountering a gearbox problem towards the end of the race. Initial analysis suggests this was a dog-ring failure, that lost Lewis third gear. As a result, Lewis drove brilliantly, adapting his technique to race to the flag in fourth gear and above. We’re confident it can be resolved for Korea without incurring a five-place grid penalty.

“For the final three races, we’ve got to make sure we have 100 per cent reliability. Lewis finished this race 28 points behind the leader in the drivers’ championship, with Jenson trailing by 31. With 75 points to play for in the drivers’ championship, and 129 in the constructors’, our title challenge is still very much alive.

“We’ll keep on pushing and developing this car. There’s no reason why we can’t be fighting for the championship in Abu Dhabi.”