Jenson Button has echoed his team-mate Lewis Hamilton in warmly praising the substantial progress made by McLaren-Mercedes from the final group test of the winter to the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend - even if he acknowledged that he personally failed to extract the best from the much-improved package during qualifying.

Button set the pace in Friday practice around the Albert Park Street Circuit, but come qualifying, the 2009 F1 World Champion was never quite able to match Hamilton in the sister car, concluding each of the three sessions between four-and-five tenths of a second adrift of his compatriot.

Reacting with some surprise when he discovered that his team-mate had not even benefitted from the use of the KERS Hybrid for almost half of his fastest lap - costing Hamilton as much as a further two tenths [see separate story - click here] - JB pointed to a 'messy' Q3 that had scuppered his efforts to improve upon fourth position on the grid, but nonetheless remains enthusiastic in the extreme about the improvements brought to the hitherto uncompetitive and unreliable MP4-26.

"I think we should be happy with this result," the 31-year-old underlined. "All the way through qualifying, the car felt great, actually, and at the end of Q2 the performance was very good. I almost set a very good lap, but they called me in because we didn't need to.

"Q3 was a bit disappointing; I had a little fight with [Nico] Rosberg on the 'out' lap which became a little bit messy, and Felipe [Massa] had a spin in front of me so I had no tyre temperature when I started my lap - I got to Turn One and had big understeer, and the lap that I didn't complete in Q2 would have been quicker!

"We didn't get the most out of our package in Q3, but it's nonetheless a massive step forward from what we had in testing, so we should all be very happy with what we've done so far - and there's still a lot we can build on. The car is still in its early stages because we haven't done much testing, but to be reliable and reasonably quick gives us huge motivation.

"Everyone back at the factory should be really proud - they put in an awful lot of hard work to get us here today. A big 'thank you' to all the guys there; they've done a tremendous job, not just to bring reliability, but to bring some great performance, too.

"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I had a good race from fourth last year, and I think I can have a good race from fourth this year, too. We ought to be positive, and I think we can challenge for the win tomorrow."

Button also offered his thoughts on the Pirelli tyre situation, with the majority of drivers professing themselves pleasantly surprised by the durability of the Italian manufacturer's rubber Down Under in the wake of the well-documented difficulties in testing.

"It feels like a very different tyre to what we had in testing," the nine-time grand prix-winner told BBC Sport. "For me, the whole weekend, the tyre has felt quite durable and it gives you very good grip. We haven't really seen any graining problems. I don't know if it's just the type of circuit or what, but the tyre seems like it's working really well.

"I'm not sure there are going to be any four-stoppers out there [in the race]. There might possibly be, but it's going to be a really big mix. I think all the teams are going to be watching each other to see what they do - but you can also get caught out like that. You do have to think on your feet, but also you have to have a plan, so it's a little bit of a mix. I really trust these guys - they've done a great job with strategy so far this year - and the great thing is that the driver can have some input into when they think it's time to pit."

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, meanwhile, has defended Button's performance after some observers criticised the gap between the Woking-based outfit's two drivers. He insisted that both men are fully capable of pulling off a wholly unanticipated victory on Sunday.

"Jenson was a little bit disappointed with that," the Englishman reflected. "Obviously he felt that he should have been able to get up into third, but he won from fourth last year, we've got two great race drivers, we've got to look after the tyres, make no mistakes and see if we can win the race tomorrow.

"Jenson has been as quick as Lewis all weekend. I think he wasn't quite comfortable with the balance of the car in that session. By his standards, that was a disappointing performance, because Jenson wants to be up there and he felt he could have been and should have been quicker than that, but nonetheless, he's on the second row. He and Lewis can win. We've got to push Sebastian hard tomorrow."

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