Jenson Button insists that his disappointment at only finishing sixth in the Australian Grand Prix is an indication of the progress made by McLaren in the week leading up to the F1 season opener.
After a tough pre-season, McLaren introduced a raft of changes to the MP4-26 for the Albert Park weekend and reaped the rewards as Button and team-mate Lewis Hamilton qualified on the front two rows of the grid.
Hamilton then took second place in the race while Button looked well set to fight for a place on the podium himself before a penalty for running off track while fighting for position with Felipe Massa dropped him down the order and left him to finish the race in sixth.
While that left Button somewhat disappointed with the end result, the 2009 champion said there was plenty of encouragment to be taken away from the weekend for the way in which McLaren has progressed in recent weeks.
“On the one hand, I'm disappointed to have only finished sixth, because I know our car was much better than that on Sunday,” he said. “But, on the other hand, I'm really encouraged by what we achieved in just a couple of weeks – and to be here now feeling disappointed about sixth place, despite having a drive-through, tells you a lot about just how pleased we are with our current state of progress.
"I still feel like I had a good race. I lost around 25 seconds through the penalty, but at no point did the car ever feel anything less than totally planted underneath me. That's the most encouraging thing.”
Button added that, while Red Bull has the car to beat at the moment, McLaren had shown it can be a contender during the year ahead despite being written off in some quarters based on the performance during pre-season testing.
“Clearly, the Red Bulls are quick – Sebastian's pole lap showed everyone that. But, on race pace, it would look as if we're already a lot closer at this stage of the season than we were last year. I know you can say that Red Bull weren't using KERS Hybrid, which puts a couple of tenths in your pocket, but I don't think it's as clear-cut as you might have believed on Saturday evening.
"Then, we're very definitely in the hunt. I think there's a massive amount of untapped potential in our car: Sunday was the first time we'd even completed a race distance with the car, which tells you how much there is to get out of the package.
"And I think Ferrari will be very strong too. They started the weekend strongly, but it sounds like they went a little backwards on Saturday and into Sunday. But their race pace was good, so I think they'll only be stronger at the next two races.
"All in all, it's looking like a continuation of the battle between the three top teams that we saw last year, which will be great for the sport and the fans."