McLaren pair set fastest laps in Australia

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were both wearing broad smiles as some of the doom and gloom that has recently surrounded McLaren lifted today.

Following a wretched pre-season fraught with pace and reliability issues, the two former world champions had both expressed concerns regarding the team's new challenger for this season, the MP4-26.



The British duo conjured a surprise in practice ahead of the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne's Albert Park as Button edged Hamilton by 0.132 seconds in setting the quickest lap of one minute 25.854 seconds.



Although practice times can be notoriously misleading, there was no doubting the positivity of both men after weeks of problems with the new car's exhaust system.



"For the first time this year nothing has gone wrong, which is great, and now we have to build on that," said Button.



"We have reliability, which is something we haven't had all winter, so to finally have a car in which we can do as many laps as we want is great.



"The feeling is so much better, the car feels a lot more complete, one that we can really make some progress with.



"So I'm very happy with how hard the guys have worked and what they have brought to this race because in testing it was looking pretty tough for us.



"They've brought something here that's good, we don't know how good yet, but whatever happens this weekend we should be very happy with the step forward we have made."



The problem was a radical exhaust system which at first appeared an innovation, but in reality was an over-complication as it robbed the car of valuable downforce.



Forced to return to the drawing board, McLaren's engineers opted to simplify the design in line with rivals Red Bull and Ferrari.



Sounding a note of caution, Button added: "Although I hope we can improve further, we're not going to get carried away.



"I know Red Bull weren't using their rear wing when they set their quick laps - I know because I was watching - so they have another five or six tenths (of a second) available to them."



Right behind the McLarens in the second practice session were the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the Red Bull duo of current world champion Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber.



As for Hamilton, he now feels he is in the hunt for points rather than wondering whether he will simply finish the race.



"Our car feels like it is an improvement from testing, which is a positive for us," said Hamilton.



"Whether we are as competitive as the others we will have to wait and see tomorrow, but I definitely feel we're in a position to get some points.



"If we were on the exhaust system we had in the last test then we would be in quite a lot of trouble, but today it was a big step forward, a massive improvement, a great job by the guys.



"The initial feeling is we're quick, although I'm certain the Red Bulls have more time within them, and maybe Ferrari too.



"Despite that we're in the mix, and some good points are on the cards this weekend. We are definitely on the right track."



Scotland's Paul Di Resta, who sat out first practice in favour of reserve Nico Hulkenberg, at least had the satisfaction of finishing ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil in the second session.



On his first official outing as a Formula One driver involved in a grand prix weekend, the 24-year-old Scot was 16th overall, 2.522secs behind Button and 0.207secs ahead of Sutil.



With two minutes and 30 seconds of the session remaining, Hispania Racing finally managed to get one of their two cars on track.



Plagued with financial and technical issues, drained-looking Hispania team boss Colin Kolles watched as Vitantonio Liuzzi pulled out of the garage on his way to completing a single installation lap.



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