McLaren racing director Eric Boullier says the team is definitely in a strong position despite being outqualified by a Williams and Force India in Bahrain.

Jenson Button will start sixth behind both Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, while Kimi Raikkonen also managed to get a Ferrari ahead of the McLarens in a close qualifying session. However, Boullier is sure McLaren is in a better position than it was 12 months ago and is not overly concerned by the qualifying result.

"The intention over the winter was clearly to first make sure that the car would be driveable, balanced and reliable, of which all targets have been achieved," Boullier said. "There was a lot of research in to what went wrong last year and part of it came from some correlation, on which some work has been done over the winter and it has been proven that it works."

Having held off the two Williams cars in Malaysia, Button expects it will be tough to take a similarly defensive approach in Bahrain but hopes McLaren will not be caught out by any need to save more fuel than its rivals.

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"I think it will be a little bit easier here to overtake," Button said. "I could position myself around the lap in Malaysia easily so that I had good tyres when I got on the power and they couldn't get past me so it worked out pretty well. But here it's very different; you've got four long straights and you can't block every single one of them and you can't save your tyres for traction on every single one of those straights.

"So it's going to be difficult and outright pace is key. Fuel saving is going to be a massive part of the race. Some people have to fuel save more than others and it's going to hurt them more than others. I'm not sure where we stand on that but it's going to be an important part of the race - fuel saving - and being ready for when other people fall in to the situation of having to save big in parts of the race; the last couple of laps maybe."