F1: Jenson Button in damning assessment of McLaren's start to new season

The British team were way off the pace in Australia

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The Independent Online

Jenson Button delivered a damning indictment of his latest McLaren that already has him questioning his Formula One world championship chances this season.

In one simple succinct sentence in the wake of yesterday's Australian Grand Prix in which he finished ninth, Button said: "The way the car is at the moment, this package is not going to win a race."

The excitement Button felt when the car was unveiled at the end of January has rapidly evaporated.

Just four months ago, after triumphing in the final race in Brazil, the belief was that with stability in the regulations and in ending the campaign with the best car, McLaren would be quick out of the box this year.

But rather than a natural evolution of last year's car, seemingly adopted by all the other teams, McLaren instead opted for a radical redesign team principal Martin Whitmarsh has openly conceded they are struggling to understand.

Collecting two points from the race at Melbourne's Albert Park was better than Button had initially envisaged, but after winning three of the previous four races Down Under, he knows his title hopes are already fading.

"It was good to get a couple of points, but it doesn't really ease the pain," added Button, whose team-mate Sergio Perez was 11th on his debut for the team.

"At this stage we still have to aim for the world championship. That has to be the target when you drive for McLaren.

"But it's going to be very difficult for us from where we are, a lot harder than we thought this year.

"For us to get back to the front, it's not going to be whilst we're racing outside Europe.

"But we've got what we have and we're going to deal with it the best we can and push hard for improvements."

As for Lewis Hamilton, despite his stated dislike for 'going backwards' as he finished fifth on his Mercedes debut after starting third, his mood was in stark contrast to that of former team-mate Button.

Like his fellow Briton, the result was "much better than expected", but one that has given him genuine optimism for the year ahead.

"I always like to go forwards rather than backwards, but overall it is a really good step for the team," said Hamilton.

"The car felt really good out there, one we can really work with, and I believe we can bridge the gap to the leaders.

"We've a good chance to close up because we've some good things in the pipeline. I really feel we can compete with those guys."

Hamilton's team-mate Nico Rosberg was not so fortunate as the German retired with an electrical problem on lap 27.

Ahead of Hamilton, Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen took the chequered flag for the 20th time in his F1 career.

Ferrari duo Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were second and fourth, sandwiching Red Bull's reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel in third.