McLaren showed promising pace in Free Practice 1 this morning, finishing the session 2nd and 3rd behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. However, they looked less competitive this afternoon, with Lewis Hamilton ending the day fifth and Jenson Button only managing ninth.
Hamilton believes that developments on their rivals cars had contributed to the increased performance, but the Brit believes that McLaren will still have an advantage when it comes to race pace on Sunday. He also explained a near-miss he had with Michael Schumacher during the afternoon session.
“The first session looked quite good for us,” said Hamilton. “But it was always going to be interesting to see how quickly the blown-diffuser cars could get up to speed – and they looked very competitive this afternoon, particularly over a single lap. And the grip they appear to have through the high-speed stuff could make them difficult for us to touch.
“Nevertheless, I still think our race pace will be good, and we'll keep pushing: this weekend is all about us taking as much as we can from the blown-diffuser cars while they have an advantage.
“As for the small misunderstanding with Michael [Schumacher], well, it's always difficult to find a gap out there. I saw him ahead of me and I thought he was on a quick lap – then, all of a sudden, he slowed down to create a gap from the guy in front. Around here, it's all about managing the gap between the guy in front and the guy behind. Fortunately, I missed him, so no hard feelings – and I hear he apologised anyway, so it's all good. There's no problem.
“Everyone's always backing up here at the final corner, so it's a bit like Monaco in that sense. And it shows just how tricky it will be to find a gap in qualifying.”
Button believes his car set-up was improving towards the end of the day, but is still predicting a challenging weekend ahead, with all of McLaren’s main rivals looking strong here.
“It's hard to get a balance around this circuit, but we changed it throughout P2 and the car feels pretty good now,” said the world champion. “Our long run was quite promising, too – we were perhaps a little over-cautious at the beginning, so I was able to push at the end.
“I'm reasonably happy, but there are a lot of quick cars out there. The Ferraris look very fast; so do the Red Bulls, Renaults and Mercedes. But that's because teams bring out upgrade packages at different points during the season, and we don't have an upgrade for here, and many teams do. Anyway, it evens out over the season but we've just got to fight it out here and get the best out of what we've got.
“This is a car we know, so we'll tweak it and try to make sure we don't make any mistakes this weekend. It's going to be a tough weekend for us, but an enjoyable one too, and we should still get some good points from it.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh explained that McLaren have not brought any significant upgrades to this race, and that the advances of their rivals will provide the team with a challenge on race day:
“Today we saw just how relentless the development race has become in Formula 1, with several cars appearing to take a step forward in pace by adopting a blown diffuser and showing, particularly this afternoon, that it seemingly offers a useful performance advantage.
“As we've already said, we don't have any significant upgrades for this race, so the weekend will be more about pushing to maximise the potential of the package we currently have, minimising our mistakes and pushing hard at every opportunity to score the most possible points on Sunday.”