Jenson Button has admitted that the Chinese Grand Prix looks a tougher prospect for the McLaren-Honda team than it may have done 24 hours previously.

The Briton, and team-mate Fernando Alonso, were upbeat after a positive couple of practice sessions on Friday, and both believed that getting through to the second phase of qualifying was a real possibility after failing to make the cut in both Australia and Malaysia. However, when it came down to it in Shanghai, both again found themselves on the wrong side of the divide, even if the gap to cars in front was smaller than before.

"I think we've made some good improvements this weekend but qualifying just was not for us today for some reason, and I don't know why," Button lamented, "You find a reasonably good balance but the lap time is just not there.

Related Articles

"We thought we'd be closer to sort of top ten - not that we were going into top ten, but I thought we'd be a little closer. I'm a little bit surprised, as I thought we'd be more competitive."

While just two-tenths separated Button from a place in Q2, he was relatively encouraged by the gap to the frontrunners, even if McLaren fell victim to improvements from the teams around them.

"In practice, we seemed quite competitive," he repeated, "Maybe we just ran less fuel than other people, but I'd be surprised. We were within two seconds of the quickest car. Today, [we're] not quite as quick but, if you compare us to the guys at the front, that gap is pretty much the same as yesterday. It's more that the cars we were in front of yesterday have stepped up, or have got the car working, or had issues yesterday, as Massa did.

"I obviously hoped for more in qualifying and thought we had a good chance of getting into Q2, but it wasn't the case. I couldn't find a balance that really worked but, saying that, it wasn't bad either. You're surprised when you're so far back when you finish the lap because, at the time, it felt reasonably good in the car. The balance is reasonably good, [so] I really don't think we could have done anything else. We had a few issues with the rear wing over the last couple of days but the balance is not too bad."

While Force India looks a reasonable target for the McLarens on raceday, Button concedes that it is difficult to look much further up the order, especially as the MP4-30's one-lap pace was deemed superior to its potential race performance.

"I haven't looked at other people's times," the Briton admitted, "I agree that Force India [is a target], but I don't know about other cars - I don't even know who is in front of the Force Indias! I think it is the Toro Rossos, who are a lot quicker, so it's not going to be an easy day tomorrow. Hopefully, it'll be better than Malaysia and, hopefully, we'll get both of us to the end of the race and have some fun out there."