By Alan Baldwin
GREATER NOIDA, India (Reuters) - Sunday's Indian Formula One Grand Prix could be McLaren's best race of a dismal season, according to their Mexican driver Sergio Perez.
Formula One's second most successful team, on race wins and number of championships won, have yet to finish in the top three this year and are facing their first season without a podium appearance since 1980.
However Perez qualified ninth at the Buddh International Circuit on Saturday while team mate and 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who was fastest in the first phase of qualifying, starts 10th.
Button actually went faster in the second part of qualifying on used soft tyres than he had on new ones in phase one.
The only drivers higher up the grid on the medium tyres were Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, in eighth place, and Red Bull's Mark Webber in fourth.
"I think we've got probably our best chance of the whole season to score good points. I'm confident with the strategy," Perez told reporters.
McLaren's best result to date is a fifth for Button in China early in the year. Perez, who has yet to be confirmed for next season, was sixth in Bahrain.
Sunday's race will be highly strategic and revolving around tyre wear, with the top three on the grid starting on the quicker but faster-wearing soft tyres while others, such as the McLaren drivers, qualified on the medium compound.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery reckoned there would be about a second a lap difference between the two compounds.
"With the soft tyre expected to last a maximum of 15 laps and the medium tyre for 30 to 35 laps, we're expecting between two to three pit stops, with the drivers starting on the medium tyre obviously aiming to make the most of a longer first stint," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Lovell)