Jenson Button says that this weekend's Australian Grand Prix will give his McLaren team a first real chance to assess where it sits in relation to its rivals.
Pre-season testing didn't bode well for the Woking giant, with both Button and Alonso at the wrong end of the times, and with reliability still an issue on the asthmatic Honda-powered MP4-31. Although better than last year, the car still wasn't where a McLaren ought to be, as it trailed the likes of Sauber, Haas, Manor on corrected times, but Button insists that the team was following its own path in Barcelona and should not be compared to its rivals.
"The Australian Grand Prix is always a fascinating unknown because you're never sure where you are in relation to your competitors," the 2009 world champion claimed, "Although we've finished pre-season testing, we've not had much time on track before the season starts, so this is the first chance for us to compare ourselves on similar set-ups. We've been concentrating heavily on our own development and processes, so I'm looking forward to seeing where we are on a level playing field."
McLaren admitted that it had not been able to complete its pre-season programme in the eight allotted days and would be continuing to bring new parts to the car in Melbourne, but Button is optimistic that the team can drag itself away from the back of the grid once racing gets underway.
“We're working hard behind the scenes to develop the car and bring new updates at every possible opportunity," he confirmed, "We are planning to bring some updates to this race, so we'll be working on configuring those into our set-up right from FP1. Melbourne will certainly be a challenge, but our package definitely feels like a step forward from last year. There are so many more variables this year – new qualifying format, new tyre regulations, and Australia usually produces unpredictable races - so anything could happen!”
Having kick-started his title-winning campaign with victory in Australia, the venue ranks as one of the Briton's favourite stops on the schedule and, regardless of what lies in store with this year's McLaren, he is eager to hit the track.
"I'm so excited to go racing again!" Button exclaimed, "Albert Park is always a great season-opener – I love Melbourne as a city, and the track is pretty good, too. The warm weather is a welcome change and the higher track temperatures than we've been used to in testing always pose a bit of a challenge. Albert Park is a tricky place to start the season at – it's an unforgiving, technical, bumpy street circuit, so it really gets you going after a few months off from racing, but that's why we love driving there."