"Clearly we're not as quick as we'd like to be," was Jenson Button's blunt assessment at the end of the first day of free practice in the 2013 F1 world championship.

That was something of an understatement. Last year's race winner was almost two and a half seconds off the Red Bull driven by Sebastian Vettel at the end of three hours of free practice running at Albert Park in Melbourne, and things weren't getting any better as the day progressed.

"Our short runs weren't particularly encouraging, to be honest," he admitted. "We're a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things, and that's always going to be disappointing for a team as successful as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

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"In a situation like this one, all you can say is that there's a hell of a lot of work for us to do, and that we're well up for it," he continued. "This team is incredibly good at turning things around, performance-wise, when that's what's required."

But the British former world champion was under no illusions that it was looking like Saturday was going to be a tough time of it for the team, based on their showing in free practice so far.

"Qualifying won't be easy, but I'm pretty sure we'll be able to do a better job on Saturday than we've done today," he said, leaving unspoken the implied 'it could hardly be much worse.'

"I'll be surprised - and very happy - if we are in the top ten on Saturday," was his assessment of where McLaren stood on the basis of Friday's performance. And things hadn't appeared to be improving as the day went on.

"Our car appears to be lacking in grip and consistency, and is suffering from significant understeer and poor ride," contributed team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Try as we might, we didn't move forward in performance terms during the course of the day, either."

"We have quite a few weaknesses with the car," Button elaborated. "Ride is a lot worse than what we expected and Martin's already pointed that out. We've been working with that today to try and improve the car around the ride, but we haven't really found a direction yet.

"That's something we'll be working on and hopefully we can find a good direction because the ride is so important with a F1 car. If the car's moving around a lot then the downforce isn't necessarily working in the correct manner, so we've got to get the ride sorted," he said, stressing that the bumpy nature of the Albert Park temporary street circuit was being particularly unhelpful tot he team as they struggled to get on top of things.

Button's new team mate Sergio Perez was in agreement with the general gloom in the McLaren garage

"We're struggling a bit, to be honest. We aren't as competitive here as we'd wanted to be," said the young Mexican, who took over the race eat from Lewis hamilton over the winter. "We knew we were a bit off but not this much. We know this track does not suit the problems we are having so it will maximise the issues that we are having at the moment.

"We are generally lacking front and rear downforce," Perez explained. "It is not just over one axle, it is both. It's difficult to drive and difficult to extract the maximum because it's very inconsistent through the corners.

"But we're working on it, and as Jenson says we should be able to find some improvements for tomorrow," he continued. "I know exactly how good Vodafone McLaren Mercedes technical guys are: I've seen it from the outside before, and I'm seeing it from the inside now, and there's no doubt that they can close the gap to the cars ahead better and faster than anyone else."

Even if the team can pull something out of the bag in time for qualifying, merely finishing in the points on Sunday could be as much as McLaren can realistically hope for from here.

"With the way things have gone today, I think points would be very positive," admitted Button. "When things aren't going your way it's important to get the most from what you have. At the moment that's what it feels like, but I have only just got out the car.

"There's a lot of stuff we can do tonight and it's always tough for a racing driver when you step out the car, you're always a bit emotional. I'll be a lot more spritely tomorrow," he added.

But the big question is: will the car?