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Button's Melbourne hopes go up in smoke

Written by: Staff

MELBOURNE, Apr 2 (Reuters) Chronic tyre problems, and then a blown engine within sight of the finish, put paid to Jenson Button's hopes of a first race victory in today's Australian Grand Prix.

The dejected Briton, so confident after winning pole position for the third time in his career, said repeated safety car interruptions had taken the heat out of his Honda's tyres and wrecked his race.

''It was outrageous, I've never seen anything like it,'' a deflated Button told reporters.

''We were on a soft tyre and I was losing four seconds a lap, it's a big issue for us. I do not know if we can solve it.'' The 26-year-old had held off the expected charge at the start by eventual winner and world champion Fernando Alonso in the Renault, but his problems started during the first of four safety car interruptions.

''I got off the line to keep Fernando behind me and at that point the car was driveable. But as soon as the safety car came out we were screwed as the tyres lost their temperature,'' he said.

''It's a weakness we've had with the car. At the restart the grip went, the car started shuddering and they all came past me for about four laps, there was nothing I could do.

''We just can't get grip into our tyres and we need to do something for Imola.'' Under the circumstances, Button did well to maintain his fifth place position until the final lap, but entering the home straight a plume of smoke and fire spewed out of the back of his car as the Honda engine gave up the ghost.

''It (the engine) started to go a couple of corners earlier and going into the last I heard it go. I pulled off onto the right hand side, it wouldn't have reached the finish line,'' declared Button.

''We've got a car that's quick over one lap in qualifying but as soon as the tyre temperature drops we simply don't have the grip.'' Honda team boss Nick Fry was equally frustrated by the poor performance of Button's tyres, particularly as team mate Rubens Barrichello had battled through the field from 16th on the grid to sixth.

''We had great trouble getting heat into our tyres, especially the front tyres. He (Button) is less than impressed but rightly so I think. We've got a lot to do before we get to Imola,'' said Fry.

Contradicting Button's version, he said the team opted to forego the possibility of points and instructed the driver to pull over before the finish to avoid an engine penalty at the San Marino Grand Prix on Apr. 23.

''It was a quick call by the race engineer and we need to see if it was right later,'' Fry said.

''We've got some improvements to the car for Imola but this was an unexpected problem and we're going to have to sit down with Michelin and sort it out.'' REUTERS PDS BST1352

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