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Challenging Red Bull will be tricky - Jenson Button

McLaren's Jenson Button
Lewis Hamilton will test for McLaren on Wednesday

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at Circuit de Catalunya

Jenson Button believes McLaren will not be able to challenge rivals Red Bull and Ferrari at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on 27 March.

Button was 0.366 seconds behind Mark Webber's top time of one minute 22.544 seconds for Red Bull at testing.

Ferrari sat out the opening day of the final test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Button said: "I'd be surprised if we can match Red Bull and Ferrari when we get to Melbourne. It's a big ask. To be on their pace is going to be tricky."

McLaren had conceded before the final pre-season test began at the Circuit de Catalunya that they were lagging behind their chief rivals.

After a lack of spare parts during their first outing in Jerez - where they launched the MP4-26 - and more reliability problems at the last Barcelona test, another protracted spell in the garage was not what McLaren or Button needed.

McLaren's Jenson Button
I'm quite impressed with the step we've made with the car although still it's not enough to fight at the front yet

Jenson Button

However, Button's running was limited in the morning because of exhaust problems and the 31-year-old had to wait until after lunch to close down Webber's leading time on a single-lap run.

"It hasn't been the best start to the year in terms of mileage, reliability and pace but we have made some progress," Button said.

"The laps I spent on the circuit on lower and higher fuel were quite a good improvement on what I experienced here at the last test.

"There is still more work needed to be as quick as Red Bull, Ferrari and maybe one or two other teams.

"You're not going to be happy being the third fastest team, but there is a lot you can do from that position, and considering the last few tests and our pace, you'd be reasonably be happy with that."

McLaren ran with a new front wing and a modified exhaust on Tuesday with more updates expected to follow over the remaining three days of the test.

Button commented: "I'm quite impressed with the step we've made with the car although still it's not enough to fight at the front yet.

"We're going in the right direction, which is good."

Webber set the pace for the first time in pre-season testing, recording his fastest time during slightly warmer conditions late in the morning.

The Australian, who won last season's Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, bettered Massa's previous best time from the last test in Barcelona by 0.81 secs.

However, Webber was not reading too much into his latest outing, saying: "Nothing much has changed from week-to-week. "It's quite frustrating that I can't give you more, but no-one in the pit lane can tell you where they are.

"We're not going to sit here and say we're going to [beat] every one in the first race - that would be naive.

"We're ready to go now, get into it and see where we are. The whole weekend needs to be tested - and it will be shortly. We need to go racing"

Red Bull would not reveal the specific updates they had brought to Barcelona but with the opening Australian Grand Prix just over two weeks away all the cars are continuing to evolve.

Nick Heidfeld, who handed the Renault over to Vitaly Petrov in the afternoon because he was struggling with a cold, said he had also been encouraged by the updated car's performance.

"We have the new floor and the rear wing and that is what I tried this morning," explained Heidfeld, who is standing in for the injured Robert Kubica.

"I feel it was positive. It is a good balance to have so early in the season."

However, Heidfeld was cautious about making predictions about where Renault would fall in the pack when the cars line up for the first time in Melbourne.

"Everyone might be surprised about the pecking order, it's difficult to know," added Heidfeld, who was 2.191 secs behind Webber.

"Red Bull are still leading the pack but they are still not showing everything."

Felipe Massa will be at the helm for Ferrari on Wednesday, with Nico Rosberg opening the testing for Mercedes and Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado doing likewise for Williams.

McLaren, who have decided not to run on Thursday, will hand the car over to Lewis Hamilton and world champion Sebastian Vettel returns for Red Bull.

Day one results:

1. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault - 1:22.544

2. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes - 1:22.910

3. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault - 1:22.937

4. Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari - 1:24.117

5. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault - 1:24.735

6. Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes - 1:25.039

7. Davide Valsecchi (Ita) Team Lotus-Renault - 1:25.406

8. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso-Ferrari - 1:26.004

9. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India-Mercedes - 1:26.030

10. Luiz Razia (Brz) Team Lotus-Renault - 1:26.030

11. Jerome D'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth - 1:32.060

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F1 testing photos
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