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“He just came to apologize that the team did not tell him, but he had mirrors,” Barrichello said. “I am a little bit sad.”

McLaren’s performance was unimpressive, given the clear speed advantage it had in the opening sector of the lap. The odds of either Hamilton or Button challenging for the title lengthened further after Saturday’s showing.

“It’s disappointing. The track temperature was quite cold and that worked against us,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. “But we have got a fast race car and we are going to give it our best shot.”

Rain is forecast for Saturday night into Sunday morning, and though it is likely to have stopped by race time, it should wash some of the rubber off the track, while also potentially bringing oil to the surface from the newly laid asphalt.

That could make tire strategy vital in the race. Drivers had complained that the dirty track was causing premature tire graining.

All the top qualifiers must start on the soft-compound tires they used in qualifying, so they’ll likely need to pit early. That raised the prospect of some teams employing a rare two-stop strategy should the harder tires not last through to the finish of the 55-lap race.

“A two-stop strategy is certainly worthy of consideration,” Bridgestone director Hirohide Hamashima said.

“If the rain that some predict does arrive, then everything gets very interesting indeed as no one knows what to expect.”