November 2nd, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Jenson Button qualified 13th for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a disappointing result for the McLaren driver after he was sixth fastest in the final practice session earlier in the day. Button blamed his poor showing in qualifying on a lack of balance in his car in the cooler temperatures of qualifying.
The handling characteristics of a Formula One car change significantly as a result of large changes in air and track temperatures. Specifically, a large reduction in tempreatures will shift the balance of an F1 car towards understeer, which is the tendency of a car to want to go straight when the driver tries to turn in to a corner.
All of the teams know that their cars will tend to understeer in cooler temperatures, and they adjust their setups accordingly, by increasing front downforce and reducing rear downforce if necessary. They can also make changes to tyre pressures and suspension settings, although the changes they are permitted to make after the start of qualifying are limited.
In Button's case, McLaren gave him the maximum available front downforce on his McLaren and reduced his rear downforce significantly, but he still struggled for balance and found it difficult to get his McLaren to turn into the corners as he would have liked.
The result of Button's balance issues was a lack of pace around the track, which cost him positions on the grid. The good news for him is his reduced rear downforce setup will give him impressive straight-line performance for the race, which should help him to overtake, particularly with the aid of DRS.
Button explained his qualifying woes:
“Today’s Q2 was a puzzling session.
“I think we struggled to get the tyres working because of the cooler temperatures – I had to take so much rear wing off to try to help balance the car, but it wasn’t enough. We were maxed-out on the front wing, too. There wasn’t anything else I could have done with the car to help the front end, since we were already running very low downforce on the rear – as could be seen by our straightline speeds.
“It’s quite frustrating, because in FP3 this afternoon we looked really promising – sixth-quickest – and the car felt very good.”