Jenson Button says Mercedes and Williams are at the front of the Formula 1 pack
McLaren driver hopes upgrades can place them in the mix next week
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 05/03/14 3:34pm
Speaking to Sky Sports News on Wednesday, the McLaren driver, who made his debut for Williams in 2000 and won the world title with Mercedes - then known as Brawn GP - nine years later, said that both teams had emerged as the strongest during pre-season testing.
"It has been a messy winter for a lot of people in terms of mileage on circuit. The two that you would pick out that look strong and consistent are Mercedes and Williams," Button said.
"In a way it is not good when you are behind certain teams, but I am happy for Frank Williams that they have a competitive car so far this year. I think those are the two teams to beat right now."
Like Mercedes, Williams and also Force India, McLaren are using the German manufacturer's new power unit, which has the edge over rivals Ferrari and Renault as F1 enters its new hybrid era.
Button said that McLaren had been a little off the pace in Bahrain but hopes that upgrades to their new MP4-29 could make the difference in Australia.
"We didn't have our upgrade on the car in testing - we did actually have it on, but we didn't get to run it as we had a few issues - so for the moment we don't really know where we stand," he said.
"Those two are the teams that I think looked strongest over winter testing, whether that will be the case when we get to Melbourne - it is a very different circuit to Bahrain - we have to wait and see."
The story of the winter has been Red Bull's struggle to adapt to the sport's technical changes, with poor reliability severely limiting their running.
"I think you will see them putting in very good laps in qualifying. Whether they can get to the end of a race or not I don't know," Button assessed.
"For any team, to get to the end of a race is very difficult - especially at the start of the season - and if you do get to the end of the race there are some good points up for grabs.
"I think for the smaller teams it is the best chance to score points - especially the two teams that haven't scored a point in F1," he added.
After McLaren struggled last season, Button also reckons that Ron Dennis's return to oversee their campaign will have the desired effect.
"Yes, and I think in a good way," he added. "He is quite an unusual character Ron, I have a lot of respect for what he has done in the sport - this team wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Ron - and I think everyone is excited.
"He is looking forward to this challenge and it gives everyone a lot more confidence within in the team."