Jenson Button was delighted to complete another all-McLaren front row in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, but insisted that that was only half the battle with Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus lining up close behind.
With just four-tenths of a second covering the top eight drivers on the grid, pulling a last-gasp effort promoted Button from fifth to second in the dying second of qualifying, but he refuses to rule out the threat posed by the other frontrunners, particularly given the qualifying pace of third-placed Michael Schumacher and the Australian race performance of Red Bull..
"I think, with the heat, it is very difficult to get a good lap out of the car as it is moving around a lot, but I was pretty happy," the 2009 world champion claimed, “The most important thing is that we're on the front row. It's a long race tomorrow, and I think anybody in the top four has a chance of winning this race, but our long-run pace in practice was reasonably consistent and I think we've got a lot of confidence as a team in what we're doing.
"We definitely had an advantage today, it was a lot smaller than in Melbourne and we did a very good job today. If [Red Bull has] got everything out of the car, yes, we're two tenths quicker. It's small, not the advantage that we've seen over the last couple of years, and the race is a very different thing. I think they proved that in the last race - obviously Sebastian [Vettel] got a bit lucky with the safety car but, still, their pace was good in the race, so we expect that again."
Aware that he was not in contention for pole position this time around, reigning world champion Vettel opted to complete his qualifying session on the harder of the Pirelli compounds, meaning that he is able to start the race with a different strategy to the majority of his rivals. Button, however, doesn't believe that there is much to choose between the two types of tyre on offer in Malaysia.
"I think the tyres are pretty close in terms of lap-time," he confirmed, "They obviously see a positive in it, otherwise they wouldn't have done it, so somebody obviously thinks there is a reason for doing it, and thinks that it's an advantage. But you've still got to run the option tyre and who is to say that it's slower or the degradation's worse? It's difficult to know, really."
Despite the unknowns, Button remains optimistic that the McLaren package is the one to have.
"This is a fast, flowing circuit, and a circuit that is tough in many ways: for the car, for the tyres and for us sitting in the cockpit," he revealed, "It's a long, hot afternoon but I'm looking forward to it. I think we have a good race car. It's difficult to know how
good, but I think our long-run pace yesterday showed some reasonable consistency. So, we have to hope for that tomorrow.
"I think as a team we have a lot of confidence at the moment in what we're doing. I don't think we've too overconfident. I think we have to be very good with everything. The pace has to be there, the consistency, the pit-stops need to be key, because these guys – Mercedes and also the Renaults and Red Bulls - are very quick. Their pace seems to be better in race trim than in qualifying, so it's going to be a busy afternoon for the strategy guys and the engineers - and, obviously, for us out on circuit."