Button highlights lack of pace

Jenson Button has tempered the expectation of McLaren fans ahead of the new Formula One season by warning his car is not quick enough.

Button posted practice times on Friday that suggested he would be in the hunt for a potential podium finish in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old was second-quickest in the opening practice session and fifth-fastest in FP2, finishing 0.885 seconds behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

The reality for Button, however, is he is off the pace compared to Mercedes, Ferrari, and seemingly Red Bull who are back on the right path after a winter of discontent.

"The car is not as bad to drive as I thought it would be around here. It was quite fun to drive," said Button, a three-time winner in Australia.

"The race will be a little different as you'll have to save a lot of fuel. It's such a different way of driving as you have to lift off (the power) so early, so that bit is not fun.

"But over one lap with the soft tyre the car is fun to drive as there is a lot of power, and a lot of things are working well.

"It's just a case of working on the balance. We're not there, and I don't think our outright pace is as good as it looks.

"I don't know where we are, but we did get some running, so some good understanding for the race, but at the moment there are a few areas where we are weak and we can't really strengthen the car.

"We're trying our best, but there is definitely room for improvement because we're not quick enough right now."

Button's sentiments were echoed by new racing director Eric Boullier who said: "Several teams look faster and more competitive than they did in winter testing, and the sharp end of the field looks very competitive.

"Our aim will be to continue the learning we started at the beginning of the year, and to try our best to get two healthy cars to the finish line on Sunday."

As far as Boullier is concerned, pace is not the be all and end all so early in the season, and with the teams still learning about cars sporting the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units.

"In these early races, it may be possible to earn extra points from reliability alone, and that's why optimising our cars' reliability remains our principal aim for this weekend," added Boullier.

"To sum up, it's been a solid start, but the key fact I want to emphasise is there's plenty more to come - both this weekend, and for the forthcoming races."