Button: Long-run pace suggests Ricciardo as Mercedes’ closest challenger

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is the man with the best chance of spoiling Mercedes’ chances of taking a fourth consecutive win of the season at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, according to McLaren’s Jenson Button.

F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice

Fernando Alonso was the Mercedes pair’s closest challengers on Friday, topping the opening session, before ending the afternoon second fastest.

But Button dismissed the threat of the Ferrari’s, and instead highlighted Ricciardo’s impressive long-run pace – on a day when a number of drivers, including Button, struggled with tyre graining – as a sign of the Australian’s potential to challenge the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this weekend.

“Ricciardo in the Red Bull looks very strong,” explained Button. “He’s a lot quicker than his team-mate and able to do seven more laps [on a set of tyres] on long runs.

“He looks very good and his car’s obviously working reasonably well on the tyres.”

“I don’t think the Ferrari is the car that will be fighting Mercedes,” he added. “Maybe in qualifying, but for the race,” he said.

“I tend not to look at just one-lap pace, because that’s not what wins you races. It’s long runs that win you races.

“[Alonso] is not fast compared to Ricciardo. The Red Bull is very consistent – 18 laps in the 1m44s.

“I think he’s the guy that’s really going to challenge the Mercedes, if anyone’s going to challenge them.”

The tyre issues experienced by a number of the teams on Friday is expected to shake up the field this weekend, but Jenson Button does not expect his McLaren team to be in a position to benefit, as the Woking-based squad particularly suffered with graining.

Jenson Button in the garage.

“It’s going to be a bit of a mix-up, I think,” said the 2009 champion.

“The difference is that some people are getting the tyres working and some aren’t.

“A few cars out there are able to not grain the tyres and you can see their laptimes are much, much better than ours.”

Images courtesy of Red Bull Media/Getty Images and McLaren Mercedes

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