Both McLaren drivers took advantage of the straight-line speed of the Mercedes power unit to place inside the top seven during qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, with Jenson Button fifth and Kevin Magnussen seventh.
Button was pleasantly surprised to qualify as high as fifth, especially after his nightmare Friday on circuit, finishing at the head of six drivers separated by just 0.169s. He feels the two Mercedes and two Williams cars may be just out of reach to beat on Sunday, but is aiming to maintain his fifth place as the team look to hold on to fifth place in the Constructors Championship ahead of Force India and maybe challenge Ferrari for fourth.
“Qualifying at Interlagos has traditionally been tough for me, so I’m happy to be starting fifth,” insisted Button. “After yesterday, I don’t think we expected that – it didn’t look possible.
“I didn’t enjoy driving the car on Friday – the changes we made for practice compromised the balance – but we solved a lot of those issues overnight, and put the car back to how we’d had it before. Now, I’m happy with what we have, and I enjoyed it out there. It was still tough – we had lots of front locking, and everyone seemed to struggle on their final run in Q3 for some reason.
“However, the first four cars look a little too quick for us. If we can stay fifth, though, or stay close to the cars in front, that would be a nice place to finish. If I’d got the best from the car, I might have been a tenth quicker, but that’s still not close enough to the top four.
“Hopefully, tomorrow’s weather will be a little bit mixed – that’s the only way we can challenge the cars in front.”
Team-mate Magnussen was another of the six drivers to be covered by just over a tenth of a second in qualifying, but his best run was only good enough for seventh, and the Dane was baffled after failing to improve his time on his second run.
“This weekend has been a bit tricky – the Option tyre proved quite difficult to switch on over a single lap, which meant it was a bit strange that I couldn’t improve on my time when I did my final run in Q3,” said Magnussen. “It just didn’t feel like the tyres were working on the first lap. That’s a shame because it was very close out there.
“If it’s dry tomorrow, it looks like there’ll be quite a few pit-stops, which could offer up more opportunities than usual for us to move forward. However, it also looks like it could maybe rain tomorrow, which will make it even more unpredictable, so we’ll see what happens.
“Whatever happens, I think we can have a strong race – I’m looking forward to it.”