Progressing McLaren just miss out on Q3 for the Russian GP
"So near and yet so far!" rued Jenson Button after McLaren missed out on reaching Q3 for the first time since reuniting with Honda by a tenth of a second in Russia.
Having consistently featured in the top ten at Sochi during this weekend's practice sessions, Button will start Sunday's race from 12th - two places ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso - after narrowly missing out on reaching the final round of qualifying.
Not only was Button within a tenth of a second of the tenth-placed Daniil Kvyat, the Englishman was just two tenths behind the eighth-positioned Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen.
"Two tenths off eighth is a pain but we are definitely making progress which is good to see. This isn't a circuit which suits us but hopefully we can have a strong race," said Button to Sky F1.
"We are a lot of closer. The progress is nowhere as much as we want but it is progress. There's a good feel to everything."
Neither Button nor Alonso have scored points this season but after only out-pointing Manor last year the team appear to have made genuine progress since the winter to reach the outskirts of the midfield.
"On paper, it feels frustrating to be lining up 12th and 14th for tomorrow's race; we've definitely made some useful progress since the last race in China - as evidenced by the narrow gap of just 0.095s that separated Jenson from a spot in Q3. That's the closest we've been all season," said racing director Eric Boullier.
"The fact that we're making steady ongoing progress relative to our principal competitors is a primary motivating factor for the race. And, as such, we'll be pushing hard to get into the points tomorrow."
Ahead of qualifying in Russia, a bemused Button rebuffed suggestions he was considering returning to Williams - the team with whom he started his F1 career two decades ago - and revealed he had not yet decided whether to stay on in F1 for 2017.
"I've not talked to anyone yet, not even McLaren," he said. "We have 18 races to go this year. I just try and live in the moment and try and enjoy it as much as I can. Whether it's my last year, I don't know.
"We'll see where we are in a couple of months. If I feel I'm in a competitive place next year, I want to be racing, even if it's not for a win."