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April 17, 2011

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Jenson's on the button

MCLAREN driver Jenson Button, the 2009 World Driver's Champion, says Sunday's Formula One race is still wide open, and he says he and teammate Lewis Hamilton will "really take it the fight to the Red Bull."

Reigning Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel, driving for Red Bull, is still the odds-on favorite and finished ahead in both practices on Friday. He finished second yesterday in the qualifier for today's race.

Button shares his thoughts in a recent news conference.

Q: It took you 10 years to win the championship in 2009. How did you do it?

A: I arrived in Formula One at quite a young age. I was only 20 years old, I actually drove three different Formula One cars while I was still in my teens. So started very young with very little experience.

My first year was very exciting, a real new challenge. Then I had a couple of difficult years and then it started to become much better and I was learning a lot. I really felt I was ready in 2004 to be a challenger ... I've loved it and it's all experience. I wouldn't be the person I am today without having the difficult years.

Q: What does the term "team" mean and how are you and Lewis Hamilton working as the McLaren Mercedes team?

A: For me, a team is so important. If you don't work closely with the team, you'll never succeed. For me, working with Lewis, who is also a world champion, is a great partnership because we are ready to learn from each other. This is his fifth year in Formula One and this is my 12th year, but we still learn form each other.

We really do work together when we are working on the set of the car. We discuss everything with our engineers and it definitely helps you move on ... If I try something with my car and it's an improvement, Lewis knows about it, and it's the other way around. This really helped us over the last 15 months. I think it's only going to get better as we work close together.

Q: How about your car, the MP4-26?

A: The car of the season ... we didn't look that impressive. Some of reasons were reliability issues but we've put them right and for the first race of the season in Melbourne, we performed very well, a lot better than people thought we would. We didn't quite win race but Lewis had a great race to finish second.

I had one of those very tough races and didn't get a great result but the pace of the car was there. And for me, the feeling of the car was very, very good in 2011. In the race last weekend in Malaysia, I got a second place, my first podium-finish of the year, so I'm very happy with the result. I think we can really see a big improvement of the car from the first race to the second race.

I finished three seconds behind the winner Sebastian Vettel. Coming here to China I really feel that with a few upgrades we can chase them and we can really fight them with a victory, which will be great here in China.

Q: You are a car fanatic, so how much attention do you pay to your own vehicle?

A: Being a racing driver, I love my cars and anything from old cars through to new high tech cars. I really enjoy mechanical cars, very simple, no ABS or anything like that. I've got a 1973 Porche which I just love when I drive around, and that's just the nicest thing apart from McLaren.

It's very different but it's nice to have a classic car in the garage as well as something is high tech and is as advanced as the MP4-12c.

Q: You won the race in China last year; surely that gives you an advantage. How do you feel about the race this weekend?

A: I've had some good results here. Shanghai has been very good to me over the years. I remember the first grand prix here back in 2004 where I got a podium just behind Rubens (Rubens Barrichello from Ferrari).

I was second. A really good fight actually toward the end of the race. In 2009 I was third and last year I won the race, so Shanghai has been good to me and I look forward to another good race this weekend. We can really build on what we achieved in Malaysia last week. And I'll really take the fight to the Red Bull, so that's our aim this weekend.

Q: As a Formula One world champion and a leader of the pack, what do you think you need to beat your rivals?

A: For me working with the best is the only way of winning. It's so, so competitive. You need to be working with the best engineers, the best engine manufacturers, the best oils. I think that's why McLaren has achieved so much over the years, because they really fight to succeed. I want to be the best and it's exactly the same for all of the partners. I'm very lucky to be working with his team and I look forward to really fighting for the world championship here.

Q: In the pre-season test, the McLaren car didn't perform so well but after two stops everybody is impressed with its performance. How do you explain the difference? Now it's almost as good as the Red Bull car.

A: The winter was very difficult for us. We really struggled with reliability issues. We had an exhaust system that is very intricate. We also had some issues of performance. We tried as hard as we could to make the system work but in the end we decided that it was the wrong direction, so we worked on another exhaust system for the first race. When we arrived in Melbourne, we actually arrived with the brand-new exhaust system and a new floor. Formula One is all about the exhaust blowing on the floor causing down force. We think that we've picked up about two seconds in performance with this exhaust system, so that's the reason why we had the big step from practice to the first race.

Q: Last year Jessica (Jessica Michibata, a Japanese fashion model and Button's girlfriend) was here in Shanghai and last time you won the race. Is she here this time?

A: She's busy working this weekend in Japan, so she won't be able to come. But I think I'll still be able to perform okay without her. Hopefully, she'll be at the next race in Turkey.


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