Lewis Hamilton was pleasantly surprised to put his McLaren on the second row of the grid in qualifying today, as he doesn’t think McLaren have the pace of some of their rivals.
Hamilton won the first round in the battle of the Brits at McLaren, qualifying in fourth place while teammate Button could only manage eighth.
After the session, Hamilton sounded relieved with his grid position, and was downplaying his chances in tomorrow’s race. “I'm surprised by this afternoon's result: while we didn't have the pace of the faster cars, I definitely wasn't expecting to be fourth quickest.
“But it's a good starting point and tomorrow I hope to keep the position or gain at least one more. I don't think a win is going to be on the cards – but we'll be giving it the best we can.
We've struggled in the middle sector – we're lacking a bit of downforce – but I know the guys back in the factory will be pushing as hard as they can. And this is a much, much better position to start the season in than the one we found ourselves in last year.
“Managing the tyres tomorrow is going to be very tricky. I don't think people perhaps understand how tough it is to look after them in these conditions – it's unbelievable how quickly they drop off. We'll take the race one step at a time.”
Jenson Button was also predicting a tough day tomorrow, and attributed his relatively poor performance in qualifying to a problem with the car set-up. “I really struggled with front locking this afternoon – but we cured that problem throughout the sessions. I was getting happier with the car throughout each stint, but in Q3 something didn't feel quite right. The engineers are looking at the data to see what it was.
“It's been a surprise to us to see the pace of the quickest cars. Today, we saw which cars are fast over one lap; tomorrow maybe we'll see a slightly different picture because these cars work very differently on higher fuel-loads. Besides, your strategy isn't decided on the Saturday any more – we'll need to see what the others are doing in the race.
“There'll be a lot of heavy cars going into Turn One tomorrow, but hopefully I'll pick a nice line and get through cleanly. I'm looking forward to the challenge and it's going to be a very different one to what everybody has been used to. It'll be a long race tomorrow.”
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh was quick to praise his drivers after qualifying and feels they will also perform well in the race. “We had a few issues with grip and ride in qualifying today – especially in the middle sector of the lap over the bumps. That being the case, both our drivers did a fantastic job – and as a result Lewis will start tomorrow's race from the second row and Jenson from the fourth row. It'll be a hot and tiring Sunday afternoon for all 24 drivers, but Jenson's and Lewis's fitness and determination will benefit them throughout the 49 laps.”