McLaren has recorded its worst qualifying performance since Monaco 1983 after locking out the back row of the grid at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
McLaren is suffering a torrid start to the season with new engine partner Honda, which is re-entering the sport after a six-year absence.
Pre-season testing provided a bleak canvas for the team to build its season upon, and testing in Melbourne provided few, if any, glimmers of performance.
“I don’t think tomorrow’s going to be any easier,” lamented Button after qualifying 3.8 seconds off pole. “I think we’re probably closer to the cars in front [today] than we will be tomorrow.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think the important thing for us is to really think on our feet throughout the race and to keep learning and making sure that if we do find issues, we put them right straightaway and get through the race.
“Can we get to the end tomorrow? We hope so, but we have to take it lap by lap and see how we do. It’s going to be tough because we’ve only done two laps maximum at one time.
“We have difficult moments and we have good moments. Even putting the team through a race weekend is very difficult.
“It’s going to be tough this weekend, and it has been so far, and it will be tomorrow. We knew that coming into this weekend.
Key to McLaren’s difficulties is that it virtually wrote off the 2014 season. Mercedes gave it limited access to the workings of the new-for-2014 engine because the German manufacturer was cautious of letting its class-leading secrets fall into opposition hands.
Moreover, McLaren opted to revolutionise its car around the new Honda engine, meaning little of last year’s design has carried over into this season.
Finally, Honda is supplying a single team, meaning scope research and development is several times narrower than for Mercedes, Renault, and Ferrari, each of which had at least three customer teams.
“There’s so much new,” said Button. “The car’s a completely new philosophy and idea in terms of aerodynamics and airflow, and the power unit is brand new.
“We haven’t a lot of mileage in testing, and all the manufacturers last year had two or more teams to play with and to put mileage on the engines.
“At least this is a package that’s brand new and that’s why we are where we are.”
Kevin Magnussen, drafted in to replace the injured Fernando Alonso, qualified last, and six-tenths down on his teammate — though it is of little surprise given he had just one day of running with the car before this weekend.
Magnussen said the team needs to treat this weekend as a learning experience.
“It’s a positive that we got through qualifying,” said the Dane. “The positive is that the car is feeling really good and we’ve gotten through the first qualifying session with McLaren-Honda.
“I think it’s going to be quite interesting. This car has never done a race distance, so it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re here to learn.
“It’s going to be a challenge. You don’t really know what you’re going into. There will be a lot to learn.
“It’s good experience, we will learn from it. I’m looking forward to it, to be honest.”
Despite the historic poor outing the team remains resolute that present pain will translate into future gain.
Button, despite years in a McLaren that was semi-competitive at best and woefully underperforming at worst, believes there is reason to be upbeat.
“We know that this could be something great in the future,” said Button. ”So you put up with it, you work hard to help the guys standing next to you and hope you see improvements soon.
“It’s always frustrating when you’re not winning, but I haven’t been winning for two years. For me this is just as frustrating as the last two years — at least we have a car that is brand new.
“If I’m not fighting at the front, I might as well be where I am. Just getting into Q3 isn’t that exciting to me either.
“We can mould this into something special in the future, but a lot of hard work is needed before that.”
The 2015 Australian Grand Prix starts at 4PM AEDT. Follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #ABCF1.