It’s tough times for McLaren at the moment: Sergio Perez has yet to get his season started while Jenson Button says his team still lack the pace to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus despite scoring his best result of the season in China.
The 2009 world champion battled to ninth place in Australia and then failed to finish in Malaysia, after earlier being on target for a top six finish. But in China, buoyed by some new upgrades and a brave strategy, he finished fifth. In each case McLaren has gambled on strategy, because it has less to lose than its rivals, lacking pace as they do.
Button said: “We’re not quick enough to do the same strategy as others. We wouldn’t have finished fifth [without doing a two-stop strategy].
“A lot of the time we are out front and leading, but you can’t forget that you are doing fewer pit stops and quicker cars will be overtaking you. It all came good at the end, and with the pace we did have I think we should be very happy with it.
“I think we should take a lot of positives from here, but also know we have a lot of work to do to challenge at the front.”
Button’s team-mate Perez, however, continued his struggle with form, crossing the line in 11th for his second non-scoring finish in three races.
The Mexican, who joined the team this season after two years at Sauber, has managed just two points for ninth place in Malaysia and twice failed to make it into the final part of qualifying.
In China, he was also criticised by Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton for what they considered to be aggressive defensive moves.
He also crashed twice in Friday practice, first breaking his new front wing after sliding into the gravel on the pit lane entry and then spinning off track and damaging the rear of his car.
“I couldn’t find a flow throughout the whole race and was struggling with the car. We still don’t have the speed in the car, but it’s been a useful learning weekend for the whole team.”
However, team boss Martin Whitmarsh says Perez needs to “toughen up” and adapt quickly to his new team.
Whitmarsh said: “He’s been very polite so far this year. He needs to toughen up. He’s been generous in allowing people past him. I told him: ‘You have to be out there racing’. That means sometimes you have got to use elbows and you have got to be robust without being dirty.
“Inevitably, he is still a very young guy in a big team with lots of expectations. We haven’t given him a great car so far, and he is up against someone like Jenson who has done a fantastic job with the car we have given him.
“We, as a team, have to step up and support a young driver who has an enormous amount of talent. And with these tyres that are very fragile, with a car that is not quite there and with tricky racing, he did a reasonable job. But he is not satisfied with himself and nor should he be.”