SEPANG, Malaysia (Reuters) - A gamble on tires failed to pay off for McLaren’s Jenson Button but the former Formula One world champion remained positive he could still threaten from 10th if the rain persisted at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
As most of his rivals went for wet tires, the British driver opted to run on intermediates in the final qualifying phase after just making it into the top 10 qualifying shootout at a rain soaked Sepang Circuit.
“The decision to run on inters in Q3 was my choice. I usually make those kinds of calls, and tend to get them right, but I got it wrong today,” the 2009 world champion told reporters.
“When you’re quick enough to be fastest on full wets, then choosing to run on inters isn’t worth the gamble; but, when you’re fighting at the back of the top 10, it’s worth giving it a go to see what happens.”
A top 10 finish looked beyond Button, who finished third in the season opener in Australia two weeks ago, after he recorded the slowest lap time in the final practice before qualifying.
Team mate Kevin Magnussen faired even worse and was unable to set a time after he complained to his team over the radio about a lack of power.
But the issues were fixed in time for the qualifying session, with the 34-year-old Button refusing to be disappointed that his ploy was hit by a further deluge of rain.
“Into that final qualifying session, just as it looked as though the conditions were heading back towards favoring the inter, it went and rained again,” he bemoaned.
“Funnily enough, though, I’m not too disappointed that I made the wrong call. We might have qualified only a couple of places higher if we’d called it differently, and that’s not what we’re aiming for, so it was worth a gamble.
“Besides, if it’s wet tomorrow, it’ll be tough for everyone. The tires give us no grip in these conditions, since all the cars are obviously running lower downforce than last year.
“No one knows what’ll happen tomorrow but one thing everyone knows is that, if it rains, it’ll be tricky.”
Danish rookie Magnussen will start Sunday’s race in eighth behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton after gaining more valuable experience in the testing Malaysian conditions.
He feared he may have hurt his chances of a better starting place by running into the gravel in the second phase
“Eighth isn’t too bad, but it isn’t too good either. It’s certainly not satisfying, because it’s not where we want to be,” the Dane, who finished second in Australia, told reporters.
“It’s a shame I went off near the end of Q2 - the trip into the gravel caused some damage to the floor - I don’t know how much performance we lost, but I think we could have done a little bit more in Q3 if the car had been in one piece.
“Our car feels good, and it definitely has untapped potential. I think we can do a better job tomorrow.
“The pace probably isn’t quite there yet for us to be able to fight for outright victory but we’ll be in the mix.”
Reporting by Patrick Johnston, editing by Pritha Sarkar