After starting between 12th and 14th in each of the first seven races this year, and then starting 19th in Baku, a third place start for Jenson Button and McLaren Honda in tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, CNBC) is both a stunning surprise and a welcome result.
Button, the most experienced driver on the grid, parlayed the track conditions to his advantage to make his first Q3 since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2014, the last race for McLaren Mercedes before Honda’s return at the start of 2015.
Button was still a couple seconds behind the Mercedes up front but it didn’t matter, and while fifth on the road he’ll move up two spots to third on Sunday with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalties.
“We start from P3 tomorrow, which is mega!” Button exhaled in the team’s post-qualifying media release.
“It was an enjoyable session – I thought it was all over in Q2 after I locked up into Turn Three. It was spitting with rain at Turns One and Two, so I didn’t think it would affect me into Turn Three, but I ran wide and just stayed on.”
Button has scored five points this season, with two ninth-places and a 10th. He may not be on the podium tomorrow but he’ll be in search of good points.
“It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow: nobody really understands how the tires are going to deliver, but starting from third means we’ll be in a good position,” he admitted.
“I always love those conditions and I was just trying to save it for the last lap. Luckily there was no yellow flags – I took a lot of risks but it all worked out today.
“For now, I’m just going to enjoy this moment…”
Eric Boullier, McLaren Honda racing director, also hailed Button’s performance.
“First, Jenson and the team did an absolutely fantastic job throughout an extremely tough and tricky qualifying session. In Q3, on both the intermediate and the option tire, Jenson looked utterly assured,” he said. “He set the second-fastest lap-time on the wet-weather rubber, then locked down fifth overall as the field collectively switched to Options as the track rapidly dried.
“While Jenson drove superbly, I also want to pay tribute to our engineers and mechanics, who all worked together in extremely testing circumstances to ensure the car was in the right place at the right time to take full advantage of the changeable conditions.”