Despite going much quicker than in the previous test on the opening day of testing at Barcelona on Tuesday, Jenson Button admitted McLaren is still not in the same league as Red Bull and Ferrari.
The Briton talked to the media after the test, and AUTOSPORT was there.
Q. What did you learn today?
Jenson Button: It hasn't been quite the best start to the year in terms of testing, in terms of mileage, and in terms of reliability, and also pace. But I think we have made some good progress. I would not say we have the quickest car, but still there is a long way to go. But I am happy with what we have achieved today.
We didn't get as many laps as I would have liked, but in terms of the feel of the car we have made some good steps forward. As I said, there is still more work needed to be as quick as Red Bull, Ferrari and maybe another one or two teams, but we are moving forward - and that is a good feeling. The guys have done a great job of really working on the car's performance and the reliability, so I have to say a big well done to them. This is only the first day of a four day test, and we hope for a lot more mileage and set-up work. Today, we were limited a little bit but the set-up work that we did and the laps I spent on the circuit, on lower fuel and higher fuel, were quite good improvements from what I experienced here at the last test.
It is not perfect and it is not ready for the first race yet, but we have made progress - and we should be happy about that.
Q. In what area are you more lacking at the moment - reliability or performance?
JB: I think performance. I don't think we are as quick as the Red Bulls and I don't know about the Ferraris. We are doing work on lower fuel today and it seems, considering it was from higher fuel to lower fuel with no real set-up changes because we don't really know where we are, the car felt relatively good. If I had more time it would have been nice to change the set-up a little bit more. But I have a much better feeling with the car. I feel much more at home in the car than at the last test, which is good. And, our longer runs that we worked on a little bit this afternoon on higher fuel, I think we have also made progress there. There is still a long way to go. We have three more days.
But it is pity that I have only got one more day. I would like more. But, that is all I have got so we will have to make the most of it.
Q. Is the gap something that can be closed before Melbourne, or will it take much longer than that?
JB: I would be surprised if we can really match the Red Bull and the Ferrari when we get to Melbourne. I think that is a big ask considering the mileage that we have compared to them, and the pace in the last tests compared to them. I think that is going to be tricky. But never say never. I am quite impressed with the step that we have made with the car.
However, it is still not enough. We will see with more set-up work this week how close we can get to them. But to be on their pace for the first race is very tricky.
Q. With a lack of downforce being the basic issue with the car, is that also reflecting with tyre wear being worse than the Red Bull and Ferrari?
JB: I don't think so. I don't think we have worse tyre wear than others. I think people with a lot of downforce, if they do have more downforce than us, are still having degradation with the tyres - and that is the way the tyre is designed. It is designed to give degradation and I don't think having more downforce is really helping the situation. You are still putting a lot of stress through the tyre in high speed corners, braking and traction areas - so I think everybody is suffering with degradation. It is an area where we are all working hard to make the best of what we have, and that could be important for when we get to Melbourne. It is an F1 car and you want to push it to its limit. Sometimes it feels like you can do that, and then suddenly you don't have the grip any more. It is a difficult balance and people who understand the tyre are going to perform well at the first race.
Q. Is the lack of performance down to some parts missing, or because you could not go through all the car set-ups as you would like to know it?
JB: I think the car is good, but whether it is exceptional at the moment I really don't know. A lot of it is because I haven't had enough time in the car, enough mileage and enough set-up work. And some of it is getting everything together at the same time - or working at the same time. It has not been perfect, but that is why there is still a little bit of excitement because if you do get everything working together then you could find more pace.
Friday is an important day for me. It is my last day in the car before the first race and it is an important day - so hopefully we have great reliability and we can do some useful set-up work because today we did 74 laps, and didn't use a lot of tyres, so we have a good amount of tyres available for Friday and we can do some useful set-up work.
Q. Is the car more predictable and consistent than it was two weeks ago?
JB: Yes, I think so. It is listening to changes as well, which is nice to see. So we should be happy with the progress we have made, but it is still not enough to fight at the front yet. But we are going in the right direction which is good.
Q. So if you are the third fastest team in Melbourne be something of an achievement after all the problems you have had in testing?
JB: You are not going to be happy being the third fastest team, but I don't think it will be a bad way to start the season. You can do a lot from that position. Considering the last few tests and our pace, you would be reasonably happy with that.
Q. But there are no guarantees you are third fastest...
JB: I didn't say we were - I said we would be pretty happy if we were! I don't have a clue who is up there. You would say that Ferrari and Red Bull have been consistently very good. Over one lap is difficult to say, but their consistency is very strong in those two cars. Apart from that, there appear to be a lot of cars that have been up there on different days. So you really don't know. If you are in the top three teams then you are in a good position at the start of the season. And gaining points at the start of the season is very important and if you can arrive and understand the tyres and the car you are driving, you can get a good haul of points when other people are still trying to figure out where they are.
Q. You reverted to the more traditional exhaust layout today. Is that due to guaranteed mileage and that you want to keep the risky stuff for later in the season?
JB: We have it on today....yes. We won't necessarily have it on all week - you will have to wait and see!
Q. Did you like the nose?
JB: I actually quite like it. It was quite good, and quite fast - so I might ask to keep it!
Q. Can you see over it?
JB: Yeah it is fine, as our car nose is quite low compared to a lot of cars. We can see fine. The funny thing is that you can see the dot, so you can see the car moving a lot which is quite strange to see as you don't normally see that. It is a device that is checking out certain things on the car, so it is not something that we will be racing.
Q. Is qualifying going to change this year - are you going to have only one run?
JB: It is going to be tricky - and I don't know if I should say anything. Between the two tyres over the race weekend there will be a big difference. Qualifying is going to be very, very interesting. I don't need to say anything else.