March 15, 2010 / 1:14 PM / 10 years ago

Motor racing-Button must close gap on Hamilton, says Fry

LONDON, March 15 (Reuters) - Jenson Button was warned he was stepping into the lions’ den at McLaren and, even if the Formula One champion has yet to be mauled, he has a few things to think about after a disappointing debut in Bahrain.

“There’s clearly a gap that Jenson is going to have to close. It’s absolutely self-evident,” his former Brawn team managing director Nick Fry told Reuters after the Briton finished seventh in Sunday’s season-opener while team mate Lewis Hamilton was third.

Hamilton, the 2008 champion who has been backed by McLaren for more than a decade, had started fourth but gained from Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull suffering an engine problem that dropped him from first to fourth.

“I’m sure he’ll be looking after this weekend at what he can do to close the gap to Lewis,” said Fry, whose team was taken over by Mercedes and now has seven times champion Michael Schumacher in Button’s place, when asked about Button’s performance.

Both Mercedes drivers finished ahead of Button.

“Lewis does have ‘home team advantage’ at the moment but the longer Jenson stays with the team, the more that reason goes away,” continued Fry.

“He’ll have to be looking at all the aspects of his own performance, not only how he drives but also the way he works with the team. Jenson will know all those things and he’s got to work hard.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh felt sure Button, who won six of the first seven races with Brawn last season, would do a better job at the next race in Australia.

“I think in fairness on Saturday, Jenson was disappointed with his qualifying, and understandably,” he told reporters. “He didn’t get the clean air.

“He was quicker than the Mercedes (during the race) but couldn’t get past him (the returning Michael Schumacher), just as Lewis could not get past him (Nico Rosberg) earlier on,” added Whitmarsh.

“Lewis had a decent spell of clear air and he could demonstrate what he could do, Jenson didn’t get that decent spell of clean air.

“It was a reasonable start, I am sure we want to do better than that,” continued Whitmarsh. “We will see, going into Australia, we are hopefully going to bring a few bits to the car.”

After agreeing on the Saturday that McLaren were not quick enough, Hamilton sounded pleasantly surprised by his Sunday showing and certainly far happier than last year when the team started the season well off the pace.

“I think we’re lacking in a little bit of downforce compared to the Ferraris and especially the Red Bulls, but we’re not in a bad position,” he said after the race.

“I think we just need to try to make a step closer to them which will enable us to compete for the win.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Justin Palmer; to query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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