SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Jenson Button declared himself ecstatic after making an unexpected return to the giddy heights of the Formula One starting grid in Austria on Saturday, but he was also realistic.
The 2009 world champion recognized his third place in qualifying for what it really was — a nice bonus but, with rain a big factor, not an accurate reflection of McLaren’s pace.
His comment to a reporter, who enquired whether a podium finish might be possible on Sunday, was straight and to the point: “Have you watched any of the other races this year? Probably not.”
Former champions McLaren have not won a race since 2012, when Button also made his last appearance on the front row.
Sunday’s qualifying was the Briton’s best since 2014 and more recently he has languished mid-grid with the hope of scrabbling for a few meager points.
That may still be the case at the Red Bull Ring. As Button pointed out, he has the championship-leading Mercedes, two Ferraris and both Red Bulls behind him at a track that rewards engine power.
“When I crossed the line and the guys said I was P5 (fifth) I was obviously ecstatic,” he said, referring to his position before penalties applied to Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel moved him up.
“Fair enough, we got lucky to be P3. But sometimes you’ve got to have luck on your side, which I don’t feel I have had in qualifying this year.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’ve got to enjoy the moment.”
Button said Sunday’s race was “a little bit up in the air” for everyone, with much cooler temperatures forecast.
But he was not about to clutch at straws when reminded that Lewis Hamilton, the former team mate and triple world champion who will start on pole for Mercedes, had made some ‘dodgy’ getaways this year.
“If we are leading at turn one, that will be the only time we are leading I think,” he smiled. “By turn two, I don’t think we will be.
“If it were dry all the time, we’d be at the back of the top 10. We haven’t suddenly made a leap forward to P5.”
Button’s team mate Fernando Alonso qualified 14th after a mix-up with his tyres, but he said that was not the sole reason. He had time enough for another lap but was slowed by warning flags.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Lovell