Jenson Button’s chances in the Spanish Grand Prix could rest on the outcome of a race from England between a van and an aeroplane which left Southend at three o’clock this morning. The precious cargo in each will be a very different new front wing that Button and his whole team fervently hope will turn around their fortunes after a bruising day here in Barcelona.
As Sebastian Vettel yet again set the pace for Red Bull, McLaren attempted to put on a brave face after major modifications failed to bring about the much-anticipated uplift in their performance. On a circuit reckoned to be a decent barometer of likely form for the rest of the season, Button could manage only the 12th best time, one and a half seconds off Vettel.
Part of the problem was a washed-out morning session in which the team were unable to gather any meaningful data, and part was the need for more than the afternoon’s 90 minutes in which to sift through the data they were able to accrue in time to make a difference.
“We have a lot of work tonight to look through all the data so we can figure out how to make a better job of getting the best out of the car tomorrow,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. “I’d love to say that I think it will enable us to make a big step, but life and F1 are not as easy as that. It definitely wasn’t a good feeling today to see how things worked out after the huge effort everyone in the team has made to upgrade the car.”
Button, who Whitmarsh praised as a “great team player”, maintained his usual even strain yesterday despite the ongoing tribulations. “As with any test of an upgrade package, there are positives and negatives to take away from today,” he said. “There’s now a better understanding of the correlation between the track and the wind tunnel. That’s positive for the future, but of course we’d always like more. So I think we’ve moved forwards, but I think the others have too.
“We were limited in terms of the amount of running we could do this morning, so there’s a lot of data to sift through and plenty of things to change for tomorrow. We need to look at those elements that are potentially working and those that are not helping the overall car balance.
“We need to focus on a couple of areas but, hopefully, we can improve them a bit by tomorrow.”
What made the pill even more bitter for McLaren was that Ferrari’s updates appeared to have worked extremely well, as Fernando Alonso delighted his adoring countrymen by lapping only 0.017sec slower than Vettel. Team-mate Felipe Massa was not far off third-fastest Mark Webber, while an optimistic Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes.
“The team have done a great job to bring upgrades and while I could feel the impact immediately, it’s difficult to quantify how much of an improvement has been made,” Hamilton said. “The car was well balanced this morning but I was a little less happy in the different conditions this afternoon.”