Jenson Button hopes to avoid the mortification of qualifying on last row of the Australian Grand Prix grid, having finished 3.6 seconds behind pace setters Mercedes in practice.
After 12 torrid testing days, McLaren-Honda ran slighter better in practice today with Button completing just 13 laps in FP1 and adding just 21 to the total in the afternoon. His teammate Kevin Magnussen crashed out of practice, further limiting the amount of data McLaren could extract from their cars and put to good use.
But reliability isn’t the only worry for the Woking squad who were well off the pace off their rivals, and hence face the prospects of qualifying at the back of the grid.
"I’m hoping it won’t be the last row of the grid tomorrow, hopefully 20 cars will run!" Button said after practice. "It’s not going to be easy, we all know that, and that’s the important thing, we are all working as one. We are not pulling any fingers, we are just solving the problems as we go and hopefully we will be competitive sooner rather than later. There is a lot of hard work needed, but we knew that coming into this season.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier, however, sees great potential in the package and is optimistic about the future of the team’s partnership with Honda.
"Clearly, our practice times today indicate that we have work to do in order to close the gap to our rivals,’’ Boullier said. “It was a difficult day, but we expected that. Nevertheless, the feedback from both drivers, and the potential within the package, give us great optimism for the future.
"We always knew that the first race of the year would be tricky, but we’re working hard to narrow the gap, and I think there’s more to come tomorrow”, he concluded.