A fired-up Lewis Hamilton has revealed that should the forecast rain materialise during qualifying for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix, then his aim will be to 'fight for the front row' of the starting grid – as both Jenson Button and Martin Whitmarsh profess themselves confident about the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25's long-run pace at Interlagos.
Hamilton lapped third-quickest in opening practice in São Paulo, and fourth later on in FP2, just over half a second adrift of dominant Red Bull Racing duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Whilst the British star – who has experienced every extreme of emotion at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, agonisingly losing the drivers' title at the end of his maiden campaign in the top flight there in 2007, and making amends by clinching the crown on the very last lap in the same race twelve months later – acknowledges that on pure dry-weather pace, Red Bull look unbeatable again, in the wet, he hints, it may just be a different matter...
“The car felt good today – I'm getting everything out of it – but I still felt it needs just a little more downforce,” the 25-year-old conceded. “Still, I'm optimistic for qualifying tomorrow – especially if it rains, which I'm told it probably will. This year's car is much better than last year's car in the wet, so I feel confident that if it rains we should be able to fight for the front row.
“In terms of pure pace in the dry, the Red Bull looks very quick, but a number of factors will play a part in deciding how things pan out in the next two grands prix – weather, engines, reliability – so it's all still up for grabs.”
Team-mate, countryman and title-winning successor Button, for his part, was around half a second slower than Hamilton in both sessions – placing fourth and seventh respectively – and will need to significantly up his game over the remainder of the weekend if he is to preserve his already exceedingly slim hopes of successfully defending his 2009 laurels.
“We spent today playing about with the balance,” the 30-year-old explained. “The car feels good in high-speed corners, but we still need to work on the front end of the car in low-speed corners. Towards the end of today's running – on higher fuel – the car felt pretty good, which was encouraging.
“The weather forecast says it looks like rain tomorrow, so it'll be interesting to see how that affects qualifying. I think our race car should be good – and that's important because Sunday should be dry. Hopefully, our race set-up won't be too compromised by the anticipated wet conditions in qualifying tomorrow.”
“Today was an extremely busy day of testing for us as we gathered data on a number of new components, including floor modifications and a selection of rear wings,” summarised the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “Both drivers reported that the car wasn't as well-balanced as they'd ideally like, but we feel we have enough data to be able to effect some very positive changes ahead of running tomorrow.
“Neither Jenson nor Lewis was able to set optimal lap times during their 'Option' tyre runs, owing to a yellow flag adversely affecting their running. However, our long-run pace looks particularly encouraging and is a very good basis for Sunday's race.
“In the meantime, the weather forecasters are predicting an 80 per cent chance of rain tomorrow – and that will inevitably have some influence over some of the decisions we take this evening – but we believe we're heading in the right direction for the rest of the weekend.”