The updates brought by McLaren-Mercedes to this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix have not produced the desired effect, defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has warned - as he admitted the team's situation in Barcelona's high-speed corners is 'worse than expected'.

Having made consistent progress from its initial testing form and abject performance in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in late March, McLaren seemed to take a significant step forward in Bahrain last time out. Indeed, hopes within the squad were that bodywork upgrades in the form of a new front wing, rotating rear hubs and a new floor incorporating a 'double-decker' diffuser for the first time would vault the multiple title-winners even further back up the pecking order around the Circuit de Catalunya, a successful stomping ground for the Silver Arrows and a track where they have on no fewer than three occasions in recent years locked out the top two positions on race day.

However, after lapping just 14th and 13th-quickest respectively in FP1 and FP2 on Friday - more than a second shy of the leading pace day-long - Hamilton has reflected that the improvements have not done enough. Worse still, he fears that the modifications similarly brought along by McLaren's rivals will likely see the Woking-based outfit slide further down the grid rather than climb up it - and he can see his hopes of retaining his drivers' crown ebbing further and further away.

"We're still a long way off and I didn't feel any improvement," rued the downcast 24-year-old following the opening day of proceedings in Montmel?. "That is our true pace. It is what I said coming into the weekend and it is even worse than I expected. We have to try to get to Q2 and then work on from there. I think it is going to be hard work to get into Q3.

"From what we have experienced in practice, we definitely have a few problems. We're pushing, but unfortunately the upgrades we tried didn't work for me. We are so slow through turns three and nine and losing a lot of our time there because we can't carry the speed through the high-speed corners like other teams can, but we will still battle our way through."

Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen also struggled for pace underneath the Spanish sun, with a hydraulics failure in the gearbox curtailing the Finn's running at the end of FP1 and at the beginning of FP2 as the problem was fixed. Though just 19th-quickest on the end-of-day timesheets, the 27-year-old was at least happier than Hamilton with the changes brought to the aerodynamically underperforming MP4-24.

"Fortunately, the team was able to fix the gearbox issue shortly after we started second practice," he related, "so I didn't lose too much time. I'm really happy with the progress we made. The new parts we have on the car obviously seem to work - I think we've improved the technical package since Bahrain, but we need to wait until Saturday to compare our pace with our rivals."

The Spanish Grand Prix - the beginning of the European leg of the F1 campaign - has been billed as the first true acid test in 2009 of teams' respective form, with traditional front-runners like McLaren, Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and Renault bringing developments along to the table that they hope will enable them to take the fight to early-season pace-setters Brawn GP, Red Bull Racing and Toyota. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh is well aware that it is a pivotal weekend.

"Inevitably, when you come to a circuit with a big package of modifications that need assessing in a very short period of time, you get some successes and some failures," the Englishman reasoned, "but coming into this weekend, we've been realistic and disciplined.

"We always knew this would be a challenging circuit, but we've gathered a lot of data - and that will enable us to study our performance and enhance the car for qualifying. Are we as quick as we want to be? No. Do we believe we can get through into Q3? Yes, we do."

"Our lap times during our race simulation in the afternoon looked better than two months ago at the final winter test," concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "The positive is this proves that we are working in the right direction; the negative is that we are still not quick enough to fight for podium finishes - in fact, it will be tough to enter Q3 and to start the race in the top ten.

"Also on this circuit, our KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) hybrid is a good help for improving our lap times - and hopefully KERS will be even more of a help at the race on Sunday as only four of 20 racers are running the system here."

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