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F1: Jenson Button rues missed chance to fight for Chinese Grand Prix race win

His own team principal admitted that it was never really on the cards, but McLaren’s Jenson Button nevertheless rued the agonisingly slow final pit-stop which he felt cost him the chance of fighting Nico Rosberg for victory in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

Button, who started fifth on the grid, elected for a three-stop strategy as opposed to Rosberg’s two-stopper. And he was in contention for what would have been a spectacular win right up until he made his final stop on lap 39.

A cross-threaded wheel nut on his rear left tyre meant he sat stationary in his car for over nine seconds and when he re-emerged it was into heavy traffic, over 20 seconds down on the German.

“It was a pity because when I exited the pits I had four cars in front of me,”, Button said

“[They were] cars that I wouldn’t have been racing and I would have had a nice clear track to hopefully hunt down Nico. It was a big gap but you have to give it a go.

“But all in all it was a fun day, a good race, good overtaking out there and nice with that issue to come away with some good points for second place.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh conceded it was a shame but said victory was unlikely given the fact that Rosberg’s tyres had not degraded as quickly as everyone expected them to.

“One in a hundred cross threads and he [the mechanic] had to swap to another gun,” Whitmarsh said. “But I think it would have been difficult to beat them [Mercedes].

“Clearly if we hadn’t had the problem in Jenson’s last stop we would have got him out in clear air and with fresher tyres he would have gone on to hunt down Nico.

“But, in fairness, Nico’s tyres didn’t fall away as we thought they might.”

Whitmarsh, though, was delighted with the way that Button and team mate Lewis Hamilton, who started even further back in seventh, had stormed through the field to secure the remaining podium places.

Hamilton, who has finished third in all three races this season, now leads the drivers’ championship by two points from Button, with fewer than 25 points — the amount on offer for a race win — separating the top seven drivers.

“We have really got a great championship here,” Whitmarsh said. “We have got three winners and three very different races so far. We are not dominating but no one else is.”

Whitmarsh added that, with Sauber and Lotus showing excellent pace, this was a season when a drivers’ ability to pass cleanly was going to be crucial.

“This is going to be a season when you have to deliver, limit the mistakes and you have got to be able to overtake on the circuit,” he said.

“You saw how many cars our drivers had to overtake. I am sure you could see the marbles that were on the track, there was a lot of debris.

"It is all very well having the DRS [moveable rear wing] but you are travelling at very high speed, you go out on the marbles.

"You will hear it and feel it and then to hit the brakes late is a very, very brave thing to do. Some people get that wrong but both our guys get it right every time.”