McLaren Honda had an encouraging qualifying session ahead of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi circuit.

Jenson Button was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the top ten and will start the race from 12th place out-qualifying Fernando Alonso for the first time this season. The 2009 world champion will start the race just behind Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.

Button set his fastest time of 1m 37.701s and speaking following the session he commented by saying:

We were so close to getting into Q3 today – we had a good shot at it but ended up a tenth off.

“In fact, it was so close that we were just two tenths off eighth position in Q2 – and despite the balance not being quite there. I think both Fernando and I struggled with the handling – the car was understeering, which is difficult to resolve. There’s a tipping point at which, when you dial in more front-wing, the balance suddenly shifts from under- to oversteer – so we were being cautious in qualifying.

“Tomorrow won’t be the easiest race for us – the lap is 71 per cent full-throttle – but Turn Two is always tricky here, so my aim will be to stay out of trouble, pick up some places and then see what happens.

“I still think a one-stop strategy will prove tricky for most people tomorrow, so that should also make things interesting.

Fernando Alonso will start the race from 14th place having set a fastest time of 1m 37.807s on a set of the option tyre. The Spaniard will start the race just behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and speaking following the session the double world champion commented by saying:

The lap-times at the end of Q2 were very tight – the difference between 14th position and a place in Q3 was just two tenths. And, sadly, we’re at the back of that group.

“But that’s the way it is – I still feel that we’re missing the couple of tenths that would massively help us to overtake some of the other cars in this very competitive midfield group.

“While we weren’t in luck today, I definitely think we’ve shown ourselves to more competitive this weekend, and I hope we can recover tomorrow and fight for some points.

McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier feels that the Woking based outfit have made some progress since the last race in China and speaking following today’s qualifying session Boullier commented by saying:

On paper, it feels frustrating to be lining up 12th and 14th for tomorrow’s race; we’ve definitely made some useful progress since the last race in China – as evidenced by the narrow gap of just 0.095s that separated Jenson from a spot in Q3. That’s the closest we’ve been all season.

“However, we’re pragmatic about where we stand right now: we don’t quite have the pace to be consistent top 10 runners, and we also know that tomorrow’s race is likely to be a tough one for us, because the track layout doesn’t quite play to our strengths.

“But the fact that we’re making steady ongoing progress relative to our principal competitors is a primary motivating factor for the race. And, as such, we’ll be pushing hard to get into the points tomorrow.

Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer Yusuke Hasegawa commented by saying:

The difference between Q2 and Q3 for us today was just 0.1 seconds, but that tiny gap is still very disappointing. It is representative of where we are now, but we will push even harder to move ahead of the “middle of the pack”.

“As we saw yesterday, we had decent pace in our longer stints, and you never know what will happen within the full length of a race, so hopefully we can fight for points tomorrow.

 

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