Vodafone McLaren Mercedes have been suffered quite publicly over the 2013 season, especially over qualifying, but a somewhat welcome breakthrough happened thanks to the efforts of the From Flyer, Jenson Button. The 2009 World Champion made it into Q3 for the team, even though he elected to not set a time in that part of the session, placing in P9 ready for tomorrow’s action.
The car is over a second behind the ultimate lap time in terms of qualifying pace, but Button was somewhat conflicted between whether a lap time should be set in Q3 at all: “”My lap in Q2 was about as good as it’s going to get for us at the moment – in fact, it was one of the best laps I’ve done in a very long time. I don’t think I left anything out there, so I’m very happy about that.
“Strategically, it was a difficult decision for Q3: do we run the Option, the Prime, or do we not run at all? My heart said we should go out and set a time, whereas my head said we probably shouldn’t!”
However, the team seemed to play the same type of strategy employed by Ferrari and Sauber, with tyre strategy being employed for the best advantage possible when the race gets underway, as Button said that the focus was playing “a cat-and-mouse game” with Nico Hulkenberg, who starts ahead of Silverstone race winner and fellow countryman, Nico Rosberg.
But the plucky Brit is hopeful, as he starts from the clean side of the grid, as well as tyre choice which will come into play, and says it all looks good for the race: “It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the Option tyre early on in the race, but I think we’ve put ourselves in the best possible position for tomorrow.”
Sergio Perez, however, was hoping for more than the grid position he ended up in, as he starts 4 places behind his experienced team-mate. He admitted that he has been struggling to match Button’s pace all weekend, as he said that there was a focus in the wrong direction: “This morning, we encountered some problems with the car; perhaps we over-compensated for that, going back on the set-up, getting understeer, and finding it quite difficult to get the tyres warmed up.”
He is interested, as all the other 21 drivers are, as to how the interim-specification tyres perform in terms of performance and wear levels as the race progresses, as he is confident of a definitive improvement when the lights go out.
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh is hopeful that the team will work hard to get some reasonable points in the action set to take place in tomorrow’s race, but noted that Perez was a lot less comfortable generally than his British teammate, but says that “he’s an exciting racer and will be charging hard in the race.”
However, the results that were apparent in Qualifying is not the optimum place where the team wanted to be, explained Whitmarsh: “In all likelihood, Jenson could probably have qualified sixth today; but, strategically, we chose to do what we thought was best for the race.
“I think we did the right thing by running Jenson into Q3: we were so close to the pack during Q2 that we considered pushing to make up a few further places. Ultimately, however, we chose a more prudent approach.
“Nonetheless, starting Jenson from ninth is not a bad place to be, particularly as, we suspect, the Option-runners ahead of us will have to stop quite early in the race.”
So the race pace seems to be the main place where McLaren have found their strengths in terms of overall race performance this season, but it remains to be seen just how they will fair, depending on the weather and any issues their rivals may suffer. They clearly now have a chance to close the gap to Sahara Force India tomorrow in the Constructors’ Championship, as both their drivers failed to make it into the top ten this time around, but anything can happen.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic (c)