Jenson Button has admitted that Red Bull's qualifying pace came as no surprise to the McLaren team, and insists that added to having to take a five-place penalty, it only makes his aim of winning back-to-back Japanese grands prix more difficult.
The Briton led the opposition to Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in qualifying, coming in four-tenths behind the German in third place, but, having been forced to change his gearbox since finishing second in the Singapore Grand Prix, was relegated to eighth in the final order.
"That hurts a little bit," he conceded, "Today was good. This morning, in practice, I wasn't that happy, but we made some good improvements for qualifying. For me, both laps I did in Q3 were good. I was happy with the laps, really enjoyed driving around here, it's always great with low fuel and new tyres – new soft tyres. It was a lot of fun but we're just not quick enough.
"I wouldn't know what to put my finger on, where that four-tenths is. It was a good qualifying for us, so it's just a pity we're starting back in eighth. This place is such a nice place to fight for a win; it's going to be very difficult for me tomorrow, but never say never. There's always possibilities and I think we'll have a good race car."
Having trailed Vettel home in Singapore, Button insisted that he knew Red Bull would be a difficult opponent in Japan, despite the RB8 not having been that competitive on similar circuits in Malaysia and Spain.
"I think we expected them to be quick," he claimed, "Their race pace, especially, has been quick over the last few races. Qualifying hasn't gone their way, and Seb looked really quick in Singapore. Their pace is very good here. I felt really happy with the car but… that was it. I felt I got everything out of it on both laps, but I'm still quite a long way off these two, [even if I'm] a long way in front of everyone else.
"Third place would have been nice to start the race because I think, with this race, you really don't know what's going to happen with tyre strategies and degradation and what-have-you. A lot of people are struggling with blistering.
"But I'm starting down in eighth, and it's not the easiest place to start from. However, I still think we can really race well from there. There's an unusual group of cars in front so, hopefully, we can not just get good points. You never know, maybe we can still challenge these two...."