Australian GP: McLaren could be back of grid, says Jenson Button

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Melbourne
Danish driver Kevin Magnussen"s McLaren is removed from the circuit after crashing into a tire wall during the second practice session for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne
McLaren endured a difficult winter testing programme

McLaren risk being last on the grid at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix if the struggling Manor team do not manage to run, says Jenson Button.

He was 3.69 seconds slower than Nico Rosberg's pace-setting Mercedes in Friday practice in Melbourne.

"I'm hoping it won't be last row of the grid," said 2009 world champion Button. "Hopefully 20 cars will run."

Chief F1 writer Andrew Benson
"It's hard to think of a better place to start the season than Melbourne and somehow it would not seem right if the opener was anywhere else. It's an awfully long way to go for a race but the reward is a vibrant, fun city, a view of Port Phillip Bay and one of the loveliest venues on the calendar.
"The autumn leaves are just starting to fall in Albert Park when F1 pops by. The air is scented by pine and eucalyptus and the atmosphere crackles with anticipation. The track, a mix of street and road circuit, with walls ever close, pretty much guarantees action of one kind or another."

McLaren had set a target of a number of race wins this season but have suffered a troubled pre-season programme.

Not only that, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso will miss the opening race after crashing during a testing session in Barcelona.

As for Manor, who only made it to Australia following after an 11th-hour rescue, they failed to make it out on track on Friday as a result of a series of problems with their cars.

Button and team-mate Kevin Magnussen managed only 13 laps between them in the first practice session after the cars suffered what the team described as "a mechanical issue with the power-unit".

In session two, Magnussen, who is deputising for Alonso, crashed after four laps, while Button managed a respectable 21.

Kevin Magnussen on Twitter
"The crash was my mistake. Just lost the rear on the entry and unfortunately hit the wall and damaged the left front. Another day tomorrow!"

Button said the gap between McLaren and the teams they expected to be competing with was "big".

"Qualifying will be tricky and getting out for as many laps as we can will be tricky," said the Englishman. "Hopefully we will be competitive sooner rather than later.

"It's not going to be an easy weekend. We just need to get out heads down, do the best job we can and it's all about learning."

Kevin Magnussen of Denmark's car after he crashed during the second practice session of the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne
Kevin Magnussen crashed after only four laps of the second practice session

Magnussen was more optimistic about McLaren's chances in qualifying, saying the team "had a chance" of making it past the first knockout stage, in which the slowest five cars are eliminated, "if everything goes right".

Button was 0.4secs slower than Force India's Sergio Perez but 0.9secs off the Mexican's team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg.

Button said the car did not feel "too bad" but added: "There is a lot of work to do to be properly competitive."

Latest engine development news

Honda will be able to use nine engine development tokens this season, governing body the FIA announced to teams on Friday.

A compromise brokered before the season was that Honda, which is new to F1 this season, would be able to use the average of the amount of the number of tokens - ascribed to parts of the engine - unused by their rivals out of their total of 32 each.

Mercedes have used 25 tokens and so have seven remaining, while Ferrari have still to use 10 and Renault 12.

Australian GP practice results

Australian GP coverage details

Australian GP: Nico Rosberg fastest in Melbourne second practice