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Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Jenson Button aims to close on F1 rivals in Melbourne

World champion Jenson Button in action in Bahrain
Button hopes to get his world title defence up and running in Australia

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport, Melbourne

Jenson Button aims to close the gap on front-runners Ferrari and Red Bull at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

He was seventh and team-mate Lewis Hamilton third at the season-opener in Bahrain but Button says Melbourne's street circuit will suit his McLaren.

"It's a low downforce circuit which suits us. I'm excited - I wouldn't be if I didn't think we'd have a good race," said the world champion.

"Ferrari are quick and Red Bull are very strong but we'll be a lot closer."

In Bahrain, both McLaren drivers were frustrated to find themselves more than a second off Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel's pole position, and they also had mixed fortunes on race day.


Hamilton managed to get on to the podium after Vettel lost his lead and slid back to fourth, however Button was unable to pass Michael Schumacher's Mercedes, even though his car was faster in a straight line than the German's.

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh conceded the team were struggling to find grip and downforce at the desert circuit, and Button is hopeful they can eke more out on the stop-start Albert Park track in Melbourne.

"We learnt some useful lessons in the opening race and the whole team is keen to put them into practice this weekend," said Button, who won the 2009 Melbourne race for Brawn, who also find themselves just off the pace in their new Mercedes guise.

"Lewis has had a good time here before and I have too; the circuit has treated us quite well and hopefully we can get a good result."

Red Bull are also looking for a positive outcome in Melbourne after failing to live up to their promise in Bahrain.

Vettel lost what looked like a certain victory after a spark plug failure led to him being overtaken by the Ferraris of eventual race-winner Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, and also Hamilton's McLaren.

Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber finished eighth after getting caught up behind Button's slower McLaren, and the Australian is now expecting his team to make their pace advantage count for his home race.

"It was a frustrating race and a big pill for the team to swallow after such a big build-up," stated Webber.

"We now have another opportunity and I'm expecting the car to be strong here - there's no reason why it wouldn't be.

"Clearly we're in a lot better shape than others and it'll be interesting to see whether it's enough to have a really good weekend.

"You can never discount the Ferraris and Lewis had a pretty good weekend in Bahrain once he got going.

"We're mindful of the fact that we are trying to put a campaign together; it's not just about winning one-off races, it's about putting together a few championships."

With 18 races still to come in the 2010 title race, neither Button nor Webber is expecting a quick-fix solution to the issues raised by this year's rule changes.

Sarah Holt

The ban on in-race refuelling and a rule dictating that the top 10 drivers must start the race with the same tyres used in the final qualifying session has left drivers with few overtaking opportunities and teams with little room to manoeuvre on pit-stop strategy.

Button had said it was "tough to see a procession" in Bahrain and could not promise that the Melbourne race would be any more exciting.

"We can't get too worried about wanting this race to be better but hopefully it won't be a predictable as Bahrain," commented Button.

"I think we can improve (the racing) but it will take all of us to look at what's happening. If it's not better after this one and Malaysia, then we'll have to work on improving the spectacle."

Webber added: "I think the race will be similar to Bahrain, unfortunately that's the way the races are.

"People are covering off how to do the race so that they don't lose position and that means where you qualify is very important.

"The thing that disappointed me most in Bahrain was that there wasn't a sniff of an overtake.

"But it's a learning curve for all of us and I don't think it's going to happen for 18 races."

First practice for the Melbourne Grand Prix begins on Friday 26 March at 0130 GMT.

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see also
Jenson Button profile
14 Mar 11 |  Formula 1
Button worried by F1 rule changes
21 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher questions rule changes
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Mercedes not competitive - Brawn
19 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Sluggish McLaren worries Button
13 Mar 10 |  Formula 1

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