Jenson Button believes he would have been leading into the final laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix had his race not been ruined by a pit stop calamity.
The McLaren driver was running just ahead of the Red Bulls and Mercedes when he made his third and final stop on lap 35 at Sepang, only to lose nearly two minutes when he was released before a wheel was properly attached. As the eventual top four would all make four pit stops in total, Button reckons having studied the Malaysia race times in the subsequent three-week break that he would have been back ahead leading into the closing stages.
Although Button doubts he could have held off all his pursuers, he is sure he could have caused some headaches for Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and disrupted Red Bull and Mercedes' team orders.
"I think if we didn't have our wheel issue in the pit stop, we would've been leading the race with about 10 laps to go," Button said. "Everyone else would've had to overtake us. It would've been fun. I don't know where we would've finished, at worst fifth, at best probably third. We could've really mixed it up and changed the team orders."
Button said that form vindicated McLaren's decision to start 2013 with a radical car, even though it has led to a painful opening to the campaign.
"It was so easy for people to say after Melbourne that we should go to last year's car," he said. "Even from my point of view, it was really difficult to not think like that, because for the last few races of last year we were quickest. But I think what we have done with the car was the right thing.
"It has hurt us a lot, and it might still do here and in Bahrain, but the idea was always to have a car that we could develop through the season. It surprised us that nobody else went down our route. We thought the smaller teams would maybe keep the same tub and maybe be competitive in the first races.
"We didn't expect that all teams apart from us would go in that direction. That's what's hurt us. But the championship is still completely open. There are still 17 races to go. If we can turn it around in a few races and be fighting at the front, that's very encouraging."