There was finally something to cheer about for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton yesterday, as the pair banished their testing days blues and finished one-two in the second practice session before ‘s Australian Grand Prix.
The McLaren pair have looked gloomy ever since their testing sessions in Barcelona, where the car was left standing by the superior pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, and even Mercedes looked more menacing at the end.
Yesterday’s opening session was again dominated by Red Bull but in the second session the British drivers fought back, with Button topping the timings by 0.132sec ahead of Hamilton, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in third place.
The relevance of all this will not be known until Saturday’s qualifying. And the Red Bulls ran a substantial part of the second session without their adjustable rear wings. So it is a guessing game, with fuel loads another variable.
But yesterday’s run was encouraging for Button and Hamilton and went some way to vindicating the claims of team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, that McLaren had found an extra second since Barcelona.
“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.”
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, so they have another five or six-tenths [of a second] available to them.”
After ditching their radical exhaust system for a more conventional unit, McLaren seem to have got back on track in the nick of time.
The result was so positive it had Hamilton dreaming of emulating Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven world titles.
With five world champions on the grid this season, Hamilton will have his work cut out just trying to win his second crown, yet at least time is on his side.
“I could be here even longer [than the 42-year-old Schumacher]. My Dad looks just as young as Michael. He could be racing right now. I know that I will look younger than my Dad because I’ve worked harder on my fitness. That’s what I keep telling him.”
And Hamilton said even after the disappointments of the past two seasons he could win more titles. “I have no number. There is no limit, the sky’s the limit. As many as I can in the period of time I am here. Look at Sébastien Loeb, look at Rossi, Michael [Schumacher], legendary racers from their sports, I’d love to be a part of that. I wouldn’t rule it out but wouldn’t say eight is what I want.
“I’ve always wanted to win three world championships like Ayrton Senna and emulate what he did. That would be a start. But winning two is going to be hard enough. I can’t rule anything out. I love racing. So as long as I’m fit and I’m enjoying what I’m doing then it’s not a job. And I’m good at it and will continue to do it.
“When I met Mr Mandela he told me that he was 92 years old and he was still learning today. It’s pretty strange to imagine that he has much more to learn. So I know that I have a long road ahead of me with a lot of things to learn.
“But I haven’t won a second world championship yet. I’m trying focus on my approach to this weekend, to the season, how I’m going to win this championship.”
Hamilton, who finished third on his Formula One debut here in 2007 before winning the following year, added: “This has always been a good circuit for me.
“It suits my driving. It’s like a halfway house between a street circuit and a normal circuit. It’s a track that works quite well for my aggressive driving style.”
Hamilton appeared particularly chipper when he added: “I feel happy, I feel fit, I feel healthy. For some reason I feel happier than I’ve ever been.”I just feel mega-fit right now, the fittest I’ve ever been, which is good. I’m healthy, my girlfriend is here, my Dad’s coming this weekend, obviously working with Paul [di Resta], my brother is racing next week. My parents are good, the family is good … I haven’t really got much to complain about.”