Jenson Button admits struggling McLaren may not reach Q3 for Australian Grand Prix

Team way off the pace in practice at Albert Park on Friday

By Pete Gill.   Last Updated: 15/03/13 7:11pm

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Whitmarsh concerned after difficult day

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Jenson Button has admitted he expects McLaren to struggle to reach the top-ten shoot-out in Saturday's qualifying session for the season-opening Australian GP.

Although McLaren were expected to start the season still in the process of understanding and mastering the revolutionary MP4-28, Friday's practice sessions found the team to be in far worse shape than expected with neither Jenson Button nor new team-mate Sergio Perez able to match the pace of Mercedes, Ferrari, Lotus or the seemingly-dominant Red Bulls.

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With team boss Martin Whitmarsh describing Friday as "one of the toughest days" he had ever experienced, McLaren already appear to be in damage-limitation mode ahead of a weekend that could prove long and painful.

"We've got to really work to understand why the car is the way it is in terms of ride and downforce," Button told Sky Sports News.

"The short runs weren't perfect so I don't think we are 2.4 seconds off the pace but I'll be surprised - and very happy - if we are in the top ten on Saturday."

Nor is Whitmarsh expecting a quick fix.

"Try as we might, we didn't move forward in performance terms during the course of the day either," the McLaren boss conceded.

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