McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has moved to play down his team's hopes of success heading into the opening round of the new Formula One season in Australia, admitting that the Mercedes-powered team will have 'realistic expectations' for the Albert Park event.

Both defending champion Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen have struggled for pace with the new MP4-24 during pre-season testing, with the team openly admitting that it was behind its rivals in speed terms as the field gets to grips with the new regulations brought into play for the 2009 season.

Although the most recent test session at Jerez saw the MP4-24 closer to the pace of its rivals on track, Whitmarsh admitted that the team still has plenty of work to do to turn the car into a front-runner and said he was being realistic in his expectations for the first round of the year.

"We go into the start of the 2009 season fully aware that we do not yet have the technical package that will allow our drivers to fight at the front," he said. "In Formula 1, there is nowhere to hide: that's what makes our sport so demanding and yet so endlessly fascinating.

"As a team that goes grand prix racing with the expectation of winning races and challenging for world championships, we therefore go to Melbourne with realistic expectations. Nonetheless, we begin our season with huge determination to re-assert ourselves at the front and we will not rest for a moment until we have done that. Most importantly, we haven't forgotten how to win."

Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Norbert Haug agreed with Whitmarsh that it would be difficult for the team to try and repeat the victory secured last season by Hamilton but insisted that work would continue to resolve the current issues.

"Melbourne is the city where - twelve years ago - McLaren-Mercedes achieved their first of 58 grand prix wins since then," he said. "After a total of four victories at Albert Park, this time it may not be possible to repeat Lewis's success of last year.

"Considering our test results we will not be as competitive at the season opener as we intend to be, and so I do not expect a qualifying result at the front of the grid. However, we will all work hard to return to the front as soon as possible and in Melbourne everybody in the team is fully motivated to do everything to achieve the best possible result."

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