Lewis Hamilton has not enjoyed the happiest start to his Formula One world championship title defence, and is predicting more frustration when the circus returns from its Easter break at the Chinese Grand Prix.
Although he finished fourth in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the furore over whether or not Jarno Trulli 'overtook' him under the safety car and the ensuing allegations of attempting to mislead the stewards saw the Briton stripped of any points, while last Sunday's rain-hit Malaysian GP yielded just a single point - instead of the normal two - for seventh spot as McLaren struggles to get its MP4-24 competitive.
Last year's visit to Shanghai was only a matter of months ago, and held better memories for Hamilton, after a comprehensive victory helped pave the wave to his first world title, but he admits that the early return in 2009 - following a calendar reshuffle - is not looking as promising.
“I really enjoy racing in Shanghai – the track is a good blend of fast and slow stuff and it throws up a few nice challenges for the drivers," he commented, "Finding the right set-up is important - as you need speed and balance through the high-speed corners, but decent mechanical grip for the hairpins. We got it spot-on last year and, while I don't expect us to enjoy that sort of performance advantage this season, I think we're all looking forward to a good showing.
"Hopefully, some of the upgrades we've added to MP4-24 for this race will have a benefit - it would be very encouraging if we could qualify a little further up the grid and be regularly challenging for points.”
The ban on in-season testing means that the upgrades in question will not have seen action on track since possibly being given an evaluation during one the final Spanish outings prior to Melbourne, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh shares Hamilton's positive outlook for China.
“We have reasons to be both disappointed and optimistic about our performance in the opening races of the 2009 season - disappointed because we do not yet possess the necessary technical package to enable us to fight with the leaders, but optimistic that our rate of progress is sufficiently rapid that we should be able to fight for points finishes on a regular basis," he noted.
The lack of a Brawn-style diffuser is among the factors keeping Hamilton and McLaren mired in the pack and will not be addressed until after the WMSC hearing into their legality on Tuesday, but Whitmarsh confirmed that there will be differences on the cars this weekend.
"Next weekend's race will see a number of new components introduced to MP4-24 and, while we do not expect them to radically transform the car's potential, they should move us a little closer to the front than we saw in the opening two races,” he added.
Although attrition played its part in both Melbourne and Sepang, Hamilton has been able to make up ground in the two races so far, prompting Mercedes' Norbert Haug to suggest that more of the same could b forthcoming in Shanghai.
“Last year, Lewis drove an excellent race and won but, for this year's Chinese Grand Prix, it has to be our target to start further up the grid than was the case in the first two grands prix," the German concluded, "Those two races showed that points finishes or even podiums were possible, even when the basic speed was not good enough. The team has developed further technical and aerodynamic improvements which should enable us to make another small step forward.”