As at Monaco a fortnight ago, this afternoon’s qualifying session was a tale of contrasting fortunes for McLaren. Jenson Button managed 9th while an unlucky Kevin Magnussen didn't get through to Q3 and qualified 12th.
After an unpromising FP3 session, the team made further set-up changes to fine-tune the balance for qualifying. The improvements worked, and both drivers looked set to qualify inside the top 10.
Jenson chipped away at his laptime in all three qualifying sessions – his final time in Q3 looked strong enough for eighth, but he was knocked back to ninth by a driver setting a time just two hundredths of a second faster. It was something of a mixed blessing, though, as Jenson will now be able to take advantage of the cleaner side of the grid.
Despite looking extremely strong in both Q1 and Q2, Kevin failed to improve on his Q2 banker lap, and will line up 12th on the grid.
Both drivers will start on Option tyres tomorrow.
Jenson Button, MP4-29-04, 9th: “We’d been trying to adjust the balance all through the weekend, but we really struggled in free practice this morning. Still, it’s a positive that the changes we made for qualifying were a clear step forward.
“My fastest time in Q3 was almost good enough for eighth – I lost out by just two hundredths – but ninth is probably better in terms of starting position on the grid, because it’ll be on the clean side.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow, it’s going to be hard to read the tyres’ behaviour in these very hot conditions. They’re very easy to grain, so if you can look after them throughout a stint, it could make a big difference in the race. As a race team, we’re extremely good at thinking on our toes – so we’ll make sure we’re ready for every scenario tomorrow.”
Kevin Magnussen, MP4-29-01, 12th: “Jenson probably got the maximum from the car today. But Q2 was a bit tougher for me. The car actually feels good – there’s not much I’d do to change the set-up – but the car’s lack of downforce means that we’re not quick enough.
“Tomorrow, it’ll be important to look after the tyres – especially the Option, which will struggle in the hotter conditions. I really don’t know what to expect on Sunday: we’re starting just outside the top 10; with a good race, I hope we can score some points. All I know is that I’ll go into tomorrow absolutely fighting.”
Eric Boullier, Racing director, McLaren Mercedes: “Qualifying is not as important here as it is at some other places, so there’s still plenty to play for in what will almost certainly be an extremely tough, demanding and unpredictable race tomorrow.
“Kevin was very unfortunate in qualifying: he’d been really on it all weekend, and I think he could have joined Jenson in the top 10 had he not caught traffic on the out-lap of his final run in Q2. That caused his tyre temperatures to drop, and meant he lost a couple of tenths in the first sector.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s all part of the learning experience. He’s been doing a fantastic job, and has been working very well with his engineers. This is just a brief setback, and, as I say, qualifying is less important here than at other circuits, so he’ll be able to mount an attacking race tomorrow.
“Jenson has also done an extremely good job all weekend. As a team, we know that our car doesn’t have the downforce to challenge for the top six or seven, so ninth was a fair reflection of our car’s pace. Still, Jenson is doing a great job of getting the maximum out of the machinery he’s given.
“It’s going to be a long and eventful race tomorrow, with track temperatures looking set to be hotter than we’ve so far seen all weekend. There’s plenty of scope to make places tomorrow, so we’ll be doing our very best to manage the race on all fronts.”