McLaren happy with the showing
McLaren could barely conceal their delight on Saturday at going from a team in crisis to having Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the front two rows of the grid with pretensions of winning the Australian Grand Prix.
Just a few days after making what the team declared were "dramatic changes" to a car which had proved so unreliable they were unable to complete their testing, the duo of British former world champions were back among the frontrunners.
If world champion Sebastian Vettel's blistering lap to claim pole position for Red Bull dimmed their satisfaction at Hamilton's second place and Button's fourth in qualifying, it was difficult to tell.
"Both of these guys will go to bed tonight knowing they can win tomorrow and quite rightly, they can win tomorrow," team principal Martin Whitmarsh, flanked by his drivers, told reporters.
"Sebastian in the Red Bull has looked impressively quick but ... we could have been a bit quicker and we've got two great racers. Our aim is to win the race tomorrow," he added.
Image: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton during a pratice session at the Albert Park Circuit on Staurday
Photographs: Getty Images
'The plan is always to go forward'
Hamilton's late flying lap edged Red Bull's Mark Webber off the front row of the grid and the 26-year-old said his car had felt "fantastic" after a new exhaust system was installed.
"The plan is always to go forward or at least stay in the place we're in," Hamilton, who won here on his way to claiming the world title in 2008, said.
"I think we've got good race pace compared to most of the other competitors, perhaps not compared to Sebastian's, but generally we have good starts.
"The plan is to overtake at the start (and if not) to get through the first lap clean and just attack, attack and hope that I can jump them at the pit stops," he added.
Image: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, Redbull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber after the pratice session at the Albert Park Circuit
There will be many more pit stops in Sunday's race because of the new Pirelli tyres introduced for this season, which are designed to degrade more quickly.
Button, who won from fourth place in the rain last year and will be going for a third successive victory at Albert Park on Sunday, said it would be an unpredictable season opener.
"Who knows what's going to happen in the race?" he said.
"I think that's why it's going to be a very exciting race, there's so many variables. We've got the new tyres, which are working differently than they did in testing," he added.
Image: McLaren car at the pitstop
'It's great to be in this position after the winter'
"I think every team will be looking at each other to see who's going to stop when. It's going to be difficult going into a race without knowing the strategy.
"But I think we have to play it by ear and just enjoy the car because tomorrow will be the longest run we've done with this car," he added.
Button said he thought the problem the team had in testing meant there was still plenty of room for more rapid progress with the car.
"This is start for us, and it's great to be in this position after the winter we've had, knowing that there is so much more to come," he said.
Image: McLaren's Jenson Button during a practice session