Jenson Button says SMP Racing will not be able to fight Toyota at Silverstone this weekend, following the Japanese manufacturer’s front-row lockout in qualifying.
Toyota Gazoo Racing clinched its third straight pole on Saturday, while Button and Vitaly Petrov turned in the fastest non-hybrid effort in the No. 11 BR Engineering BR1 AER they share with Mikhail Aleshin.
But despite out-qualifying Rebellion Racing for the first time, the SMP pair were still two seconds adrift of the quickest Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
Button has dismissed the prospect of a non-hybrid challenging Toyota at Silverstone despite a pre-event Equivalence of Technology adjustment in favor of the privateers.
“There’s no comparison,” said the 2009 Formula 1 champion.
“They’ve got four-wheel drive and the tires that we use were built for a Toyota, so we overheat the rears and we never get the fronts working, because the fronts are built to be driven by power.
“The fronts are as wide as the rears so balance [is] really tricky, and we get a lot of pick-up on the front tires. Everything works against the privateer.
“In traffic, we’re four seconds per lap slower. I guess we’ll be four laps down. We’re not racing them.”
However, Button believes an entertaining race could play out between the pairs of SMP BR1s and Rebellions, which all qualified within the same second.
“For us, we’ve got the Rebellions which is fun,” he said. “I don’t know what the DragonSpeed [BR1 Gibson] will be like in the race either.
“That’s going to be a good little race, I think [because they are] such different cars, the Rebellion and the BR1. It should be a fun race.”
Button added that the SMP drivers have been struggling for balance in the low-speed sections such as Luffield and the Arena.
“In quali there was a slight issue that we had, that the rear was moving a lot, so it doesn’t give you a lot of confidence when you’re heading into the high-speed corners,” he explained.
“But in the race, it’ll be the other way around. We feel like we’re in the low-speed corners forever.
“These cars are all built around aerodynamics. That’s the most important thing for an LMP car. When the tires roll in turns 3 and 4, you feel like you’re in there forever.
“The GT cars are pulling away. But I think that’s the same situation for Rebellion as well.”
Petrov: Room For Improvement on BR1
Button’s co-driver Petrov believes the BR1’s high-downforce package has helped bridge the gap to Rebellion, but there is still room for improvement.
Silverstone marks the team’s debut of the high-downforce kit after the Russian squad elected to use its low-downforce configuration for Spa and Le Mans.
While the Silverstone EoT change gave the non-hybrids an increase in fuel flow, the Rebellions were allowed to run 15 kg lighter than the BR1s despite lapping quicker at Le Mans.
“It’s not too bad, but still we need to improve driveability with the setup because it’s still quite a gamble and not always consistent,” Petrov told Sportscar365.
“In my qualifying, we had some issue with the tire. The car was vibrating quite a lot, so that cost a lot of lap time.
“We don’t know if they [Rebellion] were 100% from qualifying or not, but it looks like our car is quick.”
Luke Smith contributed to this report.