Jenson Button admits that the McLaren team has been surprised by the pace shown by title rivals Red Bull Racing around the new Korea International Circuit, but insists that that does not stop him from believing that he can get among them on race day.
The Briton qualified a disappointing seventh fastest on Saturday afternoon in Yeongam, and conceded that front row pair Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had been able to extract more pace from their cars over the flat-out opening section of the 3.492km KIC layout than had been expected. The opening day of the meeting had ended with Webber topping the practice times, but the general perception was that McLaren had enough in hand on the long straights to be in the mix for pole. Instead, Button's seventh accompanied only fourth for team-mate Lewis Hamilton, putting the championship hopes of both in jeopardy.
Button, however, is refusing to go without a fight, and reports that his car was only let down by the inability to generate any heat in the tyres during a cooler-than-expected qualifying session.
"I was very happy with the car [but], this afternoon, I couldn't get the tyres up to temperature and struggled a bit with locking fronts and rears," he told reporters, "I didn't have enough grip and couldn't find enough pace. It's a bit disappointing that I'm so far down the grid, but Lewis was a lot quicker than me and is still only in P4, so there will be a lot of head scratching this evening and tomorrow morning.
"The Red Bulls have been surprisingly quick here - quicker than we thought. I thought that we had a very strong package - and maybe tomorrow we will do - but it just seems that, in the conditions today, we've suffered a little bit. On Friday, we were strong all day and, even this morning, it looked much better."
Sitting fully 31 points off Mark Webber's championship lead, Button knows that he needs to be ahead of the Australian when the chequered flag falls, but insists that his fourth row start, while not what he wanted, at least gives him the chance of making up ground early in the race.
"At this stage of the championship, starting from P7 is not ideal, but we have always shown that we can do better in the race, so let's wait and see," he claimed, "The only good thing is that I'm on the clean side and there are a couple of long straights after the start, so be prepared for a fun first lap!
"[I haven't given up on the championship yet], but it has become a bit more difficult having both Red Bulls on the front row, as they are the people we need to try to take points off and that doesn't look possible at the moment. [Fernando] Alonso has a quick car on the straight and so does Lewis and we know that the Red Bulls are lacking straight-line speed, so it will be interesting to see what happens on the first lap - sometimes, even from P7, you can end up at the front.
"[A lot] is dependent on what the weather is like. If it stays as cold as it is, it will be tricky to get heat into the tyres, especially the front tyres when you have got so much fuel onboard. And there is a chance of rain, so it will be a tough race. It's all up in the air a bit because we don't have any data whatsoever that we could turn to. It will be very easy tomorrow to make or break your race on the first lap, but I will focus on a good start and making good some places up."