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Button expects to trail Red Bull and Ferrari at first race

ESPNF1 Staff
March 8, 2011 « FIA delays Bahrain GP decision until May | »
Jenson Button was second quickest at Barcelona but does not fancy his chances at Melbourne © Sutton Images

Jenson Button is not expecting McLaren to be on equal terms with Red Bull and Ferrari at the first race of the season in Australia.

After completing 74 laps in the cockpit of the MP4-26 on Tuesday he said the car had made progress, but admitted there was still a long way to go before it matches the pace of its front-running rivals.

"I'd be surprised if we can really match the Red Bull and Ferrari when we get to Melbourne," he told media at the Circuit de Catalunya. "I think that's a big ask considering the mileage that we've had compared to them and the pace at the last test compared to them. I think that's going to be tricky, but never say never.

"I'm quite impressed with the step that we've made with the car. We'll see with more set-up work this week how close we can get to them, but to be on their pace at the first race will be very tricky."

He said the car's competitiveness would hinge on the progress he and Lewis Hamilton can make over the remaining three days of their Barcelona test.

"There's still more work needed to be as quick as Red Bull or Ferrari or one or two teams, but we're moving forward and that is a good feeling," Button added. "This is only the first day of a four day test and we hope for a lot more mileage tomorrow and set-up work. Today we were limited a little bit, but the set-up work that we did and the laps I actually spent on the circuit on lower fuel and higher fuel were quite good improvements from what I've experienced here in the last test. It's not perfect and it's not ready for the first race but we've made improvements and we should be happy about that."

He said being the third fastest team in Australia would not be a terrible place to start the season.

"You're not going to be happy being the third fastest team, but I don't think it would be a bad way to start the season - you can do a lot from that position," Button said. "Considering the last few tests and our pace you'd be reasonably happy with that. But I haven't got a clue who's up there, you'd say that Ferrari and Red Bull have been consistently very good. Over one lap it's difficult to say but consistency is very strong in those two cars. Apart from that there have been a lot of cars that are quick on different days so you really don't know."

On McLaren's bubbled nose, run on Tuesday morning to measure flex on the front wing and not to be used in races, Button joked: "I actually quite like it. I think it looks quite good and it was actually quite fast so I might ask to keep it! But it's obviously a device for checking out certain things on the car, so it's not something we'll be racing."