Jenson Button doubts he will be able to fight for victory in the Australian Grand Prix, but believes his McLaren will be closer to Red Bull and Ferrari tomorrow than it was in qualifying.
The reigning World Champion was 0.7sec away from polesitter Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) as he took fourth on the grid – seven places ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. When asked if he had a shot at winning the race, Button replied: "Looking at qualifying, it is a no. But, the pace in Bahrain in the race was a lot more competitive than the pace in qualifying.
"I think we have done quite a lot of qualifying work this weekend but it doesn't mean our race pace will be poor. I think our race pace will be competitive, but how competitive I don't know yet – we will do our best and if we are quick enough to fight the front guys, then great."
He feels he has been in better shape throughout the Melbourne weekend than he was at Sakhir.
"From the word go this weekend the car has felt better than the balance in Bahrain, so qualifying is better and hopefully our race performance will be better than it was in Bahrain and hopefully we can challenge the cars in front," Button said. "It is always tricky when you are six tenths behind pole to imagine you can be fighting it out for a win. As we saw in Bahrain, Lewis' pace in the race was very good so I think we can possibly challenge them and tomorrow will be a race about strategy, the weather conditions will play a big part and we have to be on top of it – every scenario possible out there we have to be ready for."
Button admitted that McLaren appeared to have lost pace relative to its rivals between practice and qualifying.
"For me the car felt very good yesterday, I was very happy with the balance when the circuit had a lot of grip," he said. "This morning we struggled a little bit with the car. It felt very low grip on the circuit, and it seemed, I don't know if it is true or not, but it seems that a lot of the teams put downforce on the car today because if you compare our straight-line speeds yesterday, compared to the straight-line speeds today, we picked up a lot of speed which means they have only added downforce.
"That is a good reason why we are struggling and lost time compared to our competitors. Qualifying itself I felt reasonably happy with the car, the balance isn't far away from where I want it but we weren't quick enough compared to the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
"In Q3, if I had got the perfect lap together it would have been another tenth maximum, it was quite windy at the end and I don't think the circuit was any quicker, so we are six tenths off what the Red Bulls are at the moment, so it is a big gap in qualifying but I think it is getting smaller."