Despite admitting to bewilderment after being out-paced by Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix, the McLaren team insists that it can still produce a good result on race day at Yeongam.
Having topped the first practice session on Friday morning, been third fastest overnight and only narrowly missed top spot when the action resumed on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton headed into qualifying confident of being in the hunt for pole position. However, after setting the pace in the opening 20-minute knock-out phase, the Briton found that he had no answer to the speed of either Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber, as Red Bull locked out the front row once again.
“The team made a phenomenal effort to get all the new parts to the track for this race, and everybody has done a fantastic job at the track all weekend," the 2008 world champion said of the improved McLaren, “We were very quick in practice, so I don't know where the Red Bulls found an extra half a second in Q3."
With Fernando Alonso also in the mix for pole, before being pushed back in the dying moments of qualifying, Hamilton will start from the outside of row two, on the dirtier side of an already dusty grid.
"It's important to remember that we're still in the fight, and we can still have a very good race tomorrow," he insisted, "I feel that we're competitive – the car is the best it's ever been and our long runs are strong. We make good starts, and there are some long straights here, which should suit us. We just need to do the best we can with what we have – we can't ask any more of the guys back at the factory, or the guys here, and I don't think I could have asked for any more from me.”
Team-mate Jenson Button was never in the hunt for pole as he struggled to get heat into his Bridgestones, and had to settle for seventh place.
“Yesterday and this morning, I was very happy with the car - the balance was extremely good and we were looking strong," Button sighed, “This afternoon, though, I couldn't get the tyres up to temperature and struggled a bit with locking fronts and rears. I didn't have enough grip and couldn't find enough pace.
“It's going to be a bit tough tomorrow, whatever the weather does, but the good news is that I'll be starting from the clean side of the grid, and there are a couple of long straights after the first corner, so it'll be a fun first lap!”
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted that preparations for qualifying had been confused as temperatures struggled to reach previous levels, affecting the smoother Button in particular.