BARCELONA, Spain, May 20 – Optimistic McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton hope they can out-start Red Bull's defending world drivers' champion Sebastian Vettel to win this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.The British duo, world champions in 2009 and 2008 respectively, believe that the long opening straight at the Circuit de Catalunya will give them the chance to do just that – and lay the foundations for a sustained bid for the title.
Button said: “There is a very long drag down to Turn One here and, even if they qualify half a second ahead of us, providing we can qualify right behind them, we can get them into the first corner.”
Vettel has won three of the first four races this year. McLaren believe that his ability to start well and enjoy making an early break to control the often-chaotic races from the front has been a key to his advantage.
“If we can out-start them in that first run, then the race is anyone’s from then on,” added Button. “It is not as straightforward as quickest car wins.
“I think Red Bull have done a great job so far this year and so has Sebastian, but even if they are very fast in qualifying, I still think you can race them.”
The Englishman’s optimism was matched by that of compatriot Hamilton when the pair took time out to look ahead to this weekend’s contest on Thursday, the eve of Friday’s opening free practice sessions.
Hamilton said: “The problem (for us) is, when Vettel starts on pole position, it’s easy — because he has clear air. It’s pretty much done and dusted by Turn One because he’s able to look after his tyres and his engine.
“It’s very, very straightforward. There’s really not much to it. When you get stuck behind a car that’s slower than you, the question is — do you back off (and save tyres)?
“I tend to try and get past them as quickly as possible, using the tyres in the early stages just to get by, but at the last race it took me forever to get past Jenson and, once I finally had gone past, my tyres were destroyed.
“If I can get the car on the front row, those problems will pretty much disappear.”
McLaren has a variety of updates for their cars this weekend and Button hopes that will signal a step forward that is big enough to close the gap to Red Bull’s early-season pace-setting performances.
He added: “We have a lot of updates here – the stuff we were supposed to put on the car in Turkey and it makes the car look a bit sexy and faster, obviously. It is not just to make it look good.
“So that’s on the car, which is good along with the updates we were always going to bring to Barcelona anyway. So all of that, for us, is a reasonable amount of lap time.
“Can we fight the Red Bulls? We can hope. That has to be the aim. I don’t know if it is possible, but that is what we are aiming for.”
Hamilton agreed that McLaren will be faster, but suspects Red Bull will make a step and may stay just out of reach.
“If they stay where they are pace-wise, in races they’re a tenth or two quicker than us, but in qualifying it’s four to seven-tenths,” he said. “If they still have that gap then we may be closing on it a little bit.
“But you have to assume that they are bringing some updates which will propel them a little bit further forward. So we might have just moved forward at the same time and rate as them — and the gap might be the same. We’ll find out.”