Errors leave McLaren playing catch-up after qualifying
17 March 2013
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that a couple of strategic decisions backfired on the Woking squad, conspiring to leave its drivers with work to do in the Australian Grand Prix.
With the second and third phases of the knock-out session carried over to Sunday morning following heavy Saturday rain in Melbourne, both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were entering the unknown as they attempted to make it through to the pole position shoot-out on a damp but drying track.
The pair were among the first to switch from Pirelli's intermediate tyre to its supersoft 'slick' but, while Button quickly demanded that he revert to the grooved rubber, his new team-mate was not only left to flounder on the red-ringed slick, but was actually fitted with a second set after his first developed a puncture.
Without the necessary grip at all parts of the Albert Park street circuit, Perez was never likely to make it into the top ten 'shoot-out', but Whitmarsh admitted that 15th on the grid is not what the team had envisaged for its new recruit.
"I think we took a risk with Sergio going on to a dry tyre,” the team boss conceded to Sky Sports, “It was a very difficult call, [but] I think clearly sector one, sector two, it was quicker on the dry tyre. Sector three was still struggling on a dry tyre, but we took that risk.
"Unfortunately, there was some issue on that set of tyres – [Perez] thought it was a puncture - so we had to change, and that put us on the back foot. With hindsight, I think we should have switched back to the intermediate tyre, but we didn't. It didn't come off for us, and it means that took [Perez] out of Q3."
With Button back on intermediates in time for a final assault on the timesheets, McLaren secured a place in the top ten – not something it was necessarily expecting after set-up errors left it struggling for pace in free practice – but then got its timing wrong when switching the Briton to slicks in the third and final phase of the session.
The 33-year old three-time Australian GP winner was the first to venture out on the supersoft in Q3, but went too early to be able to get the best from his rubber. Although his first flying lap edged him ahead of Vettel's benchmark, Button was unable to respond when those behind him on track made significant improvements and, despite getting a third lap in before the chequered flag fell, was unable to find any time and had to settle for the outside of row five.
"With Jenson, we decided to go for it on the dry tyre – and the dry tyre was the right thing [to be on] - but we put ourselves on the track and tried to get three laps,” Whitmarsh continued, "Unfortunately, [although] the track clearly got quicker right at the end, the tyres had grained so Jenson wasn't able to realise the potential of the track at that very last critical stage.
"I think, inevitably, if you're not as competitive as you want to be, you take bigger risks, so I think that probably had some influence on it. Decisions that were made in very difficult situations didn't quite come off and made a challenging afternoon for us."
Button, amid suggestions that perhaps he should not have gone out at all in Q3, is reporting that his rear tyres were so badly grained they may not last more than a couple of laps at the start of the race....