Jenson Button was happy to come away from Malaysia with second place after a mentally taxing race in which tyre management proved just as critical as expected.
The Briton held fourth place through the first half of the race but leapfrogged Fernando Alonso at the second round of pit stops, closed on McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton and then jumped him with a swifter turnaround at his third stop.
On hard-compound tyres Button came on strong in the final stint, pulling rapidly away from Hamilton and even putting leader Sebastian Vettel under some pressure in the closing stages.
Button admitted he had struggled on the soft ‘option’ tyres but said the switch to harder ‘primes’ transformed his MP4-26’s handling.
“It was a really confusing race in a way, trying to understand the pit stops and whether or not it was worth looking after your tyres through the stint. It was pretty tricky,” he said.
“But after we put the prime tyre on, the car came alive. I had so much more grip and I had a feeling that the tyre wasn’t going to go the same way as the softs had, so my pace was much better in the last stint.
“A fun race, a couple of really good battles, and I’m happy to come away with second.”
Button had to make his final set of hard tyres last 19 laps and said making them last the distance while chasing Vettel was a difficult balancing act.
“I had the team telling me to back it off and look after the tyres, but in a racer’s mind you want to push as hard as you can because you want to try and catch the leader,” he said. “Even though it was not really on you’ve still got to give it a go.”
He felt McLaren had learned how to manage the tyres better as the race went on, but reckons it remains something of a black art.
“The thing is, it’s very difficult to understand what to do with the tyre because if you try and preserve it, sometimes you make the situation worse – because you’re not carrying as much speed through the high-speed corners, you get less downforce and you damage the tyre more.
“So it’s a very tricky situation to be in, but I think we did pretty well and as we went through the race I think we understood the tyre a lot more, and then our consistency was much, much better with the car and we didn’t get down to the canvas, which was nice!”