MONTREAL (Reuters) - Gearbox troubles left Jenson Button kicking his heels for much of Canadian Grand Prix practice on Friday while McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton went fastest in both sessions.
The contrast between the two Formula One champions was extreme but Button and the team remained optimistic after a difficult day for one side of the garage at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Button won a rain-hit race in Canada last year after a collision with Hamilton, who took his first win at the circuit in his 2007 debut season, left him having to fight from the back of the grid after a re-start.
He did so in epic fashion, making six stops in total and reeling in his rivals before passing Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel for the lead on the last lap.
On Friday, the Briton did just 12 laps in the morning and 14 in the afternoon with mechanics having to carry out two long gearbox changes.
He made it out on track with just 18 minutes remaining in the second session and then hit traffic, but despite that was ninth fastest.
“It’s not a disaster. Obviously he knows the circuit, he’s a pretty experienced driver, he was pretty good here last year and I think we can recover the situation tomorrow and I‘m sure we will,” said team principal Martin Whitmarsh.
“It’s nice to get the miles in, but Lewis was doing some good long runs and some good short runs so we’ve got quite a lot of data anyway within the team and that feeds across to Jenson.”
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale fended off accusations that McLaren had taken far too long to fix the problem.
He explained that oil was leaking onto the clutch of Button’s car. Once the seal had been repaired and the gearbox rebuilt, the mechanics discovered another previously undetected problem when the engine was fired up.
That then forced a second gearbox change.
“I‘m not too worried,” said Button, who won the season-opener in Australia but whose results have tailed off in the last three races as he struggled to get the tyres working to their best.
In six races, he has failed to score three times.
“The car has been quick all day, so there’s lots of good information for us to look at for tomorrow. I enjoy driving around this place so we’ll be hoping for a bit more luck tomorrow,” said Button.
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Frank Pingue