Jenson Button saves face for McLaren with fourth

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - McLaren, the second most successful team in Formula One, have rarely welcomed a fourth place as much as they did at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Jenson Button's result meant McLaren had failed to secure a podium finish over the course of a year for the first time since 1980 but had at least staved off the far greater ignominy of their worst season since their debut in 1966.

Until Interlagos, 2009 world champion Button and Mexican team mate Sergio Perez had been no higher than fifth - and McLaren had managed at least a fourth in every season since they started out.

"As a team we did a really good job of getting the tyre pressures right...so really happy with that," Button, who started 14th and still looked far from elated, told Britain's Sky television.

"A well-planned race and we came home with the best result we could have hoped for," added the Briton, who also set a British record for the most race starts with his 247th - one more than David Coulthard managed.

Perez, who crashed heavily in qualifying and took a five-place starting penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, took his car from 19th on the grid to sixth in his final race with the team.

McLaren ended the season fifth overall, their lowest position since 2004 when they took one sole win. In 1981, they had finished sixth, again with one win.

"To drive from 14th and 19th on the grid up to fourth and sixth was a fantastic way to finish the year," said sporting director Sam Michael.

"For the race crew and everyone at the factory, a really good way to finish the season."

Former McLaren principal Ron Dennis used to refer to second place as 'first of the losers' and the British-based outfit know they have little really to celebrate in the greater scheme of things.

McLaren have won eight constructors' titles, 12 drivers crowns and 182 grands prix down the years and fourth places have rarely rated much of a mention in the past.

This season has been very different, with the team fielding an uncompetitive car after ending 2012 with the fastest.

"This morning, if you'd have said fourth and sixth we'd have snatched your hand off," said principal Martin Whitmarsh. "But as racers inevitably when you are fourth, you are one away from the podium and it's not what we are here to do.

"It's been a pretty tough year. We've had a big kick up the pants and hopefully that's what we needed. We're working hard to make sure we don't need one again next year."

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon and Alison Wildey)

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Shanghai, China
April 20, 2014
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