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McLaren Throw Down the Gauntlet

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button delivered convincing evidence of McLaren's resurgence on Saturday when they filled the front row of the grid for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Both men drove with a sense of confidence in their MP4-27 car and great purpose as they clocked the two fastest times on an afternoon of dramatic action at Albert Park.

It was clear proof, after two years of struggling to keep pace with champions Red Bull, that the Woking-based English team, powered by Mercedes engines, is back on form -- and set to be a force in the 2012 championship.

But their achievement also created a puzzle for the team: was this the first time they had delivered a one-two in qualifying since Button and Hamilton were paired together for the 2010 season?

"I think so, but I am just assuming it," said Hamilton as he hurried back to the garage. "I'm not sure. Ask one of the team..."

Two more inquiries at the team, including one to the head of communications, delivered a classic McLaren reply: "We are just checking it out... We will come back to you on that one."

As McLaren chairman Ron Dennis joined an impromptu drinks party on a patch of grass outside their hospitality centre in the paddock, a revitalised Hamilton dashed by again. "I don't know for sure," he added.

After his roller-coaster year in 2011, when he was involved in crashes and controversy aplenty, he had driven with real élan to claim pole and prove those bad times are behind him.

Inside the hospitality unit, his mother Brenda and close friend Nicole Scherzinger, formerly of the Pussycat Dolls, once his fiancée, also had cause for smiles.

"This is so great for the team," said Hamilton. "We've had two tough years. The team have done so much, done such a great job over the (European) winter and we have all done a great job today.

"I think this is our first one-two since Jenson and I have been together, but we know that though this is a great day, it is tomorrow that matters."
McLaren have not won the constructors’ world title since 2007 or the drivers' championship since 2008.

Button, who was unable to overhaul his team-mate's best lap of one minute and 24.922 seconds with a final late lap as the sun went down, was generous in his praise to Hamilton and team.

"Congratulations to Lewis," he said. "And to the team who have done a great job. The lights have not gone out yet (for the start of the race), but we already have had a great result on a Saturday.

"It looks like it is going to be a very exciting season. Today, it was close all the way. But Lewis had the upper hand. I tried my best, but it just wasn't quite enough."

Asked to look ahead to the race and assess their rivals - including Red Bull whose drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel only qualified fifth and sixth - both forecast a close contest in Sunday's 58-laps race.

"I think it is going to be incredibly tough and intense," said Hamilton. "I think tyres are going to be key, and a good start.

"And we have to see what the strategies are like and also maybe Safety Cars... The team has to be on form, and me and Jenson - and if we are, we can be there..."

Button warned that Red Bull will remain a threat.

"Red Bull haven't lost it," he said. "They are still going to be competitive and we can never forget that, but we will enjoy the moment go out tomorrow and, hopefully, have a great race."

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