SHANGHAI (AP) For a team that got knocked out of the first round of qualifying for the third straight Formula One race, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso seemed improbably upbeat at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.
For Alonso, each race is part of the learning process for the new-look McLaren team, and the Spaniard is coping with the ups and downs along the way.
''We're enjoying growing up together as a team,'' he said. ''We can look at each other in a few months and be proud of how far we've come.''
McLaren's new partnership with Honda hasn't gone as smoothly as either side would have hoped three races into the season. Button and Alonso have had a host of problems with their engines and haven't managed a top-10 finish between them. At the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago, neither even managed to finish the race.
But both drivers emphasized how much progress they've made since Malaysia with the pace of the car, even if they've failed to improve their positions in qualifying. Button and Alonso were 17th and 18th respectively in Saturday's qualifying in Shanghai.
''I'd say we looked pretty competitive compared to the first two races of the year. We're within two seconds of the quickest car,'' Button said. ''Obviously, we hoped for more in qualifying and thought we had a good chance of getting into the (second round), but it wasn't the case.''
McLaren is one of the most successful teams in Formula One history, with eight constructors' championships, and both Button and Alonso are former world champions. But little was expected of the team this year as Honda plays catch-up to the established engine providers in its return to the sport after six years away.
''I'd hesitate to use the word `disappointing' to describe this afternoon's qualifying performance, but I think we'd all hoped for a little more, particularly after looking like we'd made a respectable improvement in all three of this weekend's practice sessions,'' McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said.
Alonso, who joined McLaren this season from Ferrari and indicated this week he'd like to finish his career with the British team, said he would consider finishing Sunday's race a success for the team.
''That'll allow us to learn more about the car and uncover any possible problems,'' he said. ''Obviously, two DNFs in Malaysia wasn't an ideal situation for us, so, regardless of the result, we need to make the finish here in China.''