Jenson Button is hopeful of continuing his long-standing love affair with the Australian Grand Prix this weekend.
Of his 15 victories, it is a remarkable statistic that 20% of those have been at Melbourne’s Albert Park, scene of the curtain-raiser to this year’s latest Formula One campaign.
It is also unusual to note that before 2009, and the first of his three wins in the last four years, the 33-year-old had finished 10th or worse on eight occasions in nine attempts.
It was not until the straight-out-of-the-box all-conquering Brawn GP car of four years ago that Button’s head was turned Down Under.
A year later, having joined McLaren, Button conjured his debut win for the team, and although only sixth in 2011, he was back on the top step of the podium in Melbourne last season.
Explaining his recent romance with Australia, Button said: “It is such a special race for all of us.
“At the end of a year, every year, everyone’s a bit tired in Brazil. You see people walking around the paddock, and unless you’ve won the grand prix or got a chance of winning it, there aren’t many smiling.
“It’s like ‘Ah, it’s been such a long season’, but at the first race it’s so, so different because it’s all new, it’s all fresh, it’s all exciting.
“Every single person in the paddock has a smile on their face again, so it is a very special race, a great place to start the season, and in such a beautiful setting.
“The Aussies are big fans of sport in general, so it’s a place that works for me.
“I’ve had a good car to achieve what I have at the first race, but we also won in 2010 when we didn’t really have such a good car, so maybe it suits my style.
“Maybe I’m more relaxed at the start of a year, more prepared. I don’t know. It’s just a race I really enjoy.
“And it’s not just the race itself, but the atmosphere and the surroundings of Melbourne.
“There isn’t a better location in the world to be kicking off what will no doubt be a fiercely competitive world championship.”
As to where McLaren stand in what has undeniably been one of the hardest-to-read pre-seasons of recent years, that is anybody’s guess.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has already conceded this year’s car is an “uncompromising design”, with the suggestion being they have pushed too hard too soon.
There were teething problems in testing that led to Button conceding at one stage he was struggling to understand the MP4-28 design.
At least the final test in Barcelona ended on a positive note, with miles clocked up, but even so there are doubts hanging over McLaren.
Button, however, knows that winning in Australia is not the prelude to taking the title, and similarly struggling in race one does not tend to suggest the entire campaign will go the same way.
“You will work on the areas where you are weak, you’ll work on areas where you were strong, you are going to work everywhere and hopefully it will all come together through the season,” added Button.
“As we’ve said before, the car that you have at the first race won’t be the same as you have in 10 races time.
“So it’s about staying on top of it, and it is going to be a real development race through the year.
“Even if you win the first race it doesn’t mean you are going to win the world championship — as I proved last year.
“It’s about staying calm and focusing on the fine details, especially because there aren’t any regulation changes this year.”
It means Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel go into the season favourites to win their fourth successive world championship.
Asked whether that would be bad news for F1, Button replied: “If he (Sebastian Vettel) walks away with it, it probably wouldn’t be the best thing.
“But if it’s a season like last year or 2010, I don’t think it’s such a problem because the racing has been great for the last few years, the best racing I’ve ever seen.
“But for us, yes, it would hurt a lot because the team hasn’t won the world championship since 2008, and I haven’t won it since 2009.
“It’s amazing how quickly time goes by, but it is still four years and we want to get it back, so we are going to do everything we can to do that.”
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