It took less than one-and-a-half minutes for Jenson Button to wipe away McLaren’s winter testing of discontent and assert the team as a prime contender for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Button and Lewis Hamilton set the fastest times in Friday’s practice as the team profited from same late changes to the car’s set-up following a frustrating Formula One off-season.

Button posted the fastest lap of 1 minute, 28.854 seconds in the second practice session, 0.132 seconds ahead of Hamilton as the McLaren cars performed strongly on the softer ‘option’ tires after being off the pace on the hard tires in the morning session.

“We don’t know what fuel loads the others are running, but our car feels like a big improvement from where we were just a few weeks ago,” Hamilton said.

Alonso third fastest

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third quickest in both sessions. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who led after the first practice session, were fourth and fifth respectively.

Sixth-placed Michael Schumacher of Mercedes led for much of the second session, indicating the team may have taken a step forward after last year’s disappointments.

“We learned a lot today and are more or less where we thought we would be, although it was quite windy and tricky to drive,” the seven-time world champion said. “We will sort out some issues on our car for the rest of the weekend, but I am still happy with what we have seen here so far.”

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