McLaren-Mercedes managing director Jonathan Neale has admitted that the Woking-based outfit is 'throwing everything and the kitchen sink' at the conquest of the F1 2010 World Championship laurels, and 'running on a very lean edge' as the battle for the coveted crown reaches fever pitch.
Of the three title protagonists – McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing – it was the former that was left trailing somewhat in the latter duo's wheel tracks last time out in Singapore a week-and-a-half ago, as Fernando Alonso made it two victories in swift succession for the Scuderia
following on from the Spaniard's Monza glory, and Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber completed the podium for RBR.
Jenson Button was the sole McLaren representative at the chequered flag in fourth, after team-mate Lewis Hamilton had crashed out when attempting to wrest third place away from Webber midway through. Neale, however, is adamant that the team's form around the harbourside streets of Marina Bay is not an accurate indicator of likely performances in the final four grands prix in Japan, Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
“We don't see it like that,” the Englishman told a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session ahead of Suzuka, when asked if McLaren is now only F1's 'third force' as it were. “We knew from our performance in Hungary that we would have a bit of a challenge going into Singapore, [but] we thought it was fantastic to lock-out the second row of the grid and felt then that we were in a pretty strong position.
“Our race pace wasn't bad. The safety car bunched up the field a little bit and made us have to run longer on the 'Option' tyres than we would have liked, but had Lewis been able to get his way around Mark and make it stick, we would have been talking about a very different situation. The fact is that we split the Ferraris and we split the Red Bulls, and the remaining four circuits have characteristics we feel confident we will be very competitive at.”
Having taken an aerodynamic update to the Far-Eastern city-state only to elect not to run it following practice, Neale confirmed that McLaren will again be bringing 'a reasonable-sized' upgrade package – focussing on the front and rear wings, and comprising 'everything we took to Singapore and some more' – to the table in Japan, which will be subjected to 'a big test' on the opening day.
As he brushed off suggestions that the fraught world championship showdown could negatively affect the team's preparations for 2011 – as reigning double title-winners Mercedes Grand Prix have discovered to their cost this year – the 48-year-old went on to muse that no one competitor holds the destiny of the trophy in their hands, and that ultimately it 'could go any way'. All McLaren can focus on, he asserts, is winning races.
“Everybody is pushing very hard at Ferrari and Red Bull, and we are doing exactly the same,” he underlined. “We've got to keep shifting the odds in our favour, by working tirelessly to make sure the car is bullet-proof reliability-wise and that the drivers don't make any mistakes.
“If there's any pressure or risk or extra effort, it's going in at the factory and at the trackside in support of the drivers. We know we've got two world champions here, and both of them know how to race hard. We've got to make sure we take the workload as much as we can off of them and allow them to focus on the racing.
“[Harming development for 2011] is not something we worry about; we've gone deep into a championship before, and [the situation] is the same for everybody else. We are pushing very hard, and we are also putting resource into next year's car – it's a delicate balance. F1 is never limited by ideas, only by the number of daylight hours and the number of people you've got. We're not concerned about any detrimental impact on next year.
“We are running on a very lean edge of what we've got. There's no change in strategy – we're going out to win each race, as we've done all year. We are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it!”