BRITISH pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have vowed to knock Red Bull off the podium and reassert McLaren’s dominance next season.
Australia’s Mark Webber capped a record-breaking year for the team by winning Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, with colleague Sebastian Vettel signing off his emphatic world title defence with a rare second place.
Button completed the podium to secure a highly creditable second place in the championship, while Hamilton’s gearbox failure highlighted a mixed campaign that saw him finish fifth.
Although comfortably runners-up in the constructors’ standings, McLaren trailed more than 150 points behind Red Bull, but the two former world champions are confident the 2012 battle will be far closer.
“There are a lot of positives to take away from this year,” said Button, who enjoyed 12 podium finishes from 19 races.
“We’ll have a strong winter and come out fighting from the first race. We’ve just got to start the season a bit more strongly, that’s all, and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do. We want to make it hard for Red Bull in 2012.”
Hamilton, who buried the hatchet with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa after vying closely with him once again this season at Interlagos, added: “I enjoyed my race while it lasted. I was challenging Felipe and I was hoping I’d get him, but then the gearbox failure stopped me.
“It’s been a long year, and I want to say a huge thank-you to the team. They’ve never given up, and they’ve worked incredibly hard all season. We didn’t get the ultimate result we wanted, but we had some great times along the way. I’ll be attacking next season; 2012 will be my year.”
McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh said he had been encouraged by recent progress in the development of next year’s car and backed Hamilton to emerge stronger from a season of difficulties on and off the circuit.
“He’s already focusing on 2012, and I’m sure he’ll prepare for the new season with his customary determination and will to win,” said Whitmarsh.
“I sat in the project review meeting last week and we had made some really good progress, so I came out of it really feeling good. We have to keep that momentum now. I think the team is working well, and I am sure we are going to have both drivers in good shape next year.”
TABLE| DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 392 pts
2. Jenson Button (McLaren) 270
3. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 258
4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 257
5. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 227
6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 118
7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 89
8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) 76
9. Adrian Sutil (Force India) 42
10. Vitaly Petrov (Renault) 37
11. Nick Heidfeld (Renault) 34
12. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) 30
TABLE | CONSTRUCTORS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Red Bull-Renault 650 pts
2. McLaren-Mercedes 497
3. Ferrari 375
4. Mercedes 165
5. Renault 73
6. Force India-Mercedes 69
7. Sauber 44
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 41
9. Williams Cosworth 5
10. Lotus-Renault 0
11. HRT-Cosworth 0
12. Virgin-Cosworth 0