It is still too early to say whether the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25 is more of an all-round potent proposition than its unloved and off-the-pace predecessor, Jonathan Neale has opined – whilst confessing that most teams 'are looking at Ferrari's enviable consistency on long runs'.
On the basis of testing times, there would appear to be precious little to separate the four anticipated title contenders this year – McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes – but if the former is not to see history repeat itself twelve months on from the birth of what was inarguably one of the least competitive cars the team has ever produced, the MP4-25 will need to be fast on all types of track, and not merely up at the sharp end of proceedings when high downforce is the order of the day. Time, Neale contends, will have to be the judge of that.
“I don't know if we are confident that the new car will be competitive across the board,” the Woking-based outfit's respected managing director told Crash.net
, during a special pre-Bahrain Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes phone-in session. “We've had limited time on the new tyres and fuel loads, and cold circuits never really give you a full signal of how much damage you can do.
“Jenson [Button] and Lewis [Hamilton] both commented about the way the car ran through Turns 3 and 9 in Barcelona, though, saying it felt really planted. That gives us good confidence in the car's high-speed performance. At low-speed it's really easy to lock up the flat-spots, which is a challenge that a lot of the teams are going to have to navigate through.”
“I think we are still getting to know Jenson and his preferences and set-ups,” he went on, “and how we can best dial the package in for him. Lewis is more aggressive under braking and on turn-in. Jenson's renowned super-smooth style means he carries more momentum into the corners, but both have the propensity to damage the tyres if [they drive] in an unguarded way.”
On the occasion of McLaren's new sponsorship tie-up with 'ambitious' Warsaw-based brokerage house X-Trade Brokers – what he referred to as 'a really exciting opportunity' and 'a good fit', with both parties striving to set high standards in the business of risk-management – Neale conceded that 'most of us are looking at Ferrari's enviable consistency on long runs', before adding that on low-fuel, he expects qualifying for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir this coming weekend to be 'really tight'.
The Englishman forecasts that the new, high-downforce section that has been added to the Bahrain International Circuit – due to make it the second-longest track on the F1 2010 calendar, after popular Belgian Grand Prix home Spa-Francorchamps – will require a high workload from both driver and car and 'will be punishing on the brakes and temperatures, particularly if you're following in traffic'.
Neale went on to elaborate on any possible steps for McLaren in the desert kingdom, and the MP4-25's much-debated rear wing – called into question by both red Bull and Ferrari – that FIA chief technical delegate Charlie Whiting was due to inspect late last week until a flight cancellation forced a postponement.
“It would have been nice to take the opportunity to [close the episode],” he mused. “We are quite relaxed about it. Knowing Adrian [Newey – Red Bull chief technical officer], Red Bull will know exactly what is going on with our car, and I have spoken to Stefano [Domenicali – Ferrari team principal] and some of the other team principals. Everybody wants to see clarity of course, and we are doing the same thing with a couple of other teams' innovations. We don't feel singled-out at all; Charlie and the FIA have been very co-operative throughout.
“We have some pretty low-level modifications [for Bahrain] – there's nothing night-and-day coming. We are just continuing to work on the details regarding the efficiency of our pit-stops. The car will look and feel very much like the car we had at the end of Barcelona testing; some alterations around the diffuser and sidepod are possible, and then after that there will be the usual arsenal of stuff to come.”