The McLaren duo knew that their only hope of making an impact in the race was to try jumping the all-Red Bull front row for position at the very start of the race, and their efforts led to a thrilling opening lap in the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of India at the Buddh International Circuit.

"I've never had a start quite like that before," said Jenson Button. "There were just millimetres between Lewis, Fernando and me ... Unbelievably hard-fought - and none of us hit each other!"

It was indeed a minor miracle that the frantic three-wide battle between Button, his McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso who blasted alongside them down the long straight into turn 4 didn't result in disaster. Instead, Button managed to close the door and keep third place while Alonso hung on to fourth place ahead of Hamilton.

"The start of the race was my highlight," admitted Button after the race. "The first and the last laps of the race were great - it was all the ones in the middle!" he told reporters after the race. He was soon beaten by Alonso's superior pace down the long straight, and then dropped back to fifth when Hamilton got the better of him as well.

"For me the problem was the soft tyre," he admitted. "I just could not get it to work, the rim was moving and really destroying the front tyres ... they were on the canvas."

Button put some of the blame on missing out on Friday practice time with gearbox issues, which meant he wasn't able to put in the long runs necessary on the soft options to get the set-up right for the race.

"My first stint was pretty disappointing; I think maybe we struggled more on the options than the other runners did, so I couldn't keep the guys behind me," he said. "I then made my pitstop earlier than anticipated, so that we could find a better balance on the harder tyre, but that didn't work out because I got stuck behind Romain, which lost me more time."

With Romain Grosjean one of the last drivers to pit, the hold-up for Button had been acute and left him way too far back from the leaders to have a hope of achieving anything more than fifth place despite the improved handling on the harder tyres.

"The prime was fine as I had done a lot more laps on it and the car really came alive on the prime tyre, but it was too late and the guys were too far ahead," he said. "But getting fastest lap on the final lap was great, and I think there's plenty of potential that we can build on and take with us to Abu Dhabi next weekend."

The fact that Button could set the fastest lap on the final lap of the race proved just how night and day the situation with the prime and option tyres had been for him in Greater Noida, as McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh pointed out.

"We didn't get the 0.6 second advantage [in qualifying] the others got when they switched to the option tyre," Whitmarsh admitted. "Fortunately we had the underlying pace to get on the second row. But if you saw Jenson's tyres coming off the options were ruined, but on the prime we told him to save fuel and he still set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap.

"It was McLaren's 150th fastest lap in world championship grand prix racing, incidentally," added Whitmarsh, who also went on to point out that with their result in India, McLaren had now equalled Ferrari's all-time record of 55 consecutive world championship race points finishes.

That was a small silver lining to a day that didn't really deliver as well as Whitmarsh had been hoping. "We scored 22 world championship points here today, but we'd hoped to score quite a few more than that," he conceded, meaning that Ferrari had eased away from them slightly in the constructors championship.

Whitmarsh insisted that McLaren would be seeking to reverse that next weekend in Abu Dhabi, as well as looking to extend that run of points finishes to an outright record.

"In fact, of course, we'll be aiming to do a bit more than that," he added. "There are three grands prix still to run this season, and you can be well sure that everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be doing his or her level best to win as many of them as we possibly can."