Jenson Button admitted after a torrid Chinese Grand Prix, reminiscent of McLaren’s barren 2013, he did not “know what we’re really doing here”, and that he was bewildered by the team’s decline in fortunes.
McLaren have gone from a double podium at the first race in Australia to a double retirement in Bahrain, and then an 11th and 13th-place finish on Sunday in Shanghai, a lap down on the race winner Lewis Hamilton. The team appear to have gone backwards or stood still while their rivals have improved. It has left Button hoping the start of the European season in Barcelona, in three weeks’ time, can end the pain.
“We’ve not made much progress, and this circuit has really shown where our problems are,” said the 34-year-old. “We’re not very quick at the moment and we’re destroying our tyres, which is one of our biggest problems, and we can’t get the fronts working.
“It’s all very strange, but hopefully we’ll solve it for the next race because it is pretty painful out there. We’re a lot further behind than we were at the last race, and I don’t think the other teams brought that much here. I don’t know what we’re really doing here.”
He added: “Hopefully they [the team] can stay positive and update the car because at the moment this isn’t good enough, so as of now we start the development work.”
In many senses this is a year of transition for McLaren, before they make the switch to Honda engines. Ron Dennis had declared before the season began that McLaren would win races this year, but given Mercedes’ dominance in front, as well as the improvement of Red Bull and Ferrari, that seems some way off.
McLaren are currently fifth in the constructors’ championship, more than 100 points behind Mercedes. It is not just Button who is frustrated and exasperated by the lack of progress.
Eric Boullier, hired as racing director in February, suggested that McLaren had perhaps been caught out by the reliability of the other teams, which had left them with fewer points than they expected.
“We have not gone backwards to be honest,” the Frenchman said on Monday. “We have been focusing on reliability and the driveability of the car, but we knew Mercedes-powered cars would take some big points as we have seen.
“What has been remarkable is how fast the teams have made their cars reliability. So at the end, our strategy was very short-term because other teams have picked up pace and reliability and finishing races.
“It is important to feel that today, which is not the perception, but I can promise you that if you look at the data, you can see that McLaren are coming back, and that’s what is most important.”