“It's simply too early to say anything definitive about the MP4-26 or indeed about any other 2011 F1 car.”
Last week, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh contradicted everything his two drivers had to say about the latest offering from the Woking-based team. He continued:
“Time without number, motorsport pundits have come unstuck when they've attempted to extrapolate testing times to predict race results, and I'm not about to join their number now.”
True enough, there have been countless examples of journalists making predictions that have turned out to be about as correct and truthful as the time a British newspaper reported that a No.8 double-decker bus had been sighted on the moon.
However, when your two highest-paid employees are busy telling the world that their car is not capable of winning or indeed anywhere near the pace of Red Bull Racing and Ferrari, who is the public more likely to believe?
Over lunch a few weeks ago, McLaren's MD Jonathan Neale batted away suggestions from a handful of website journalists that all was not well with the MP4-26 following its debut the previous day at Jerez.
Witnesses at the track said it looked nervous, and was struggling to maintain consistent lines. The team insisted it was busy focussing on installation programmes. Neale was adamant that this was just testing and that despite their lap accumulations and pace over short-fuel runs, Red Bull, Ferrari and Renault were not that far ahead.
Point was, though, that they were
far ahead and all the evidence suggests that the situation remains unchanged. McLaren's plan to utilise the late launch date as a means to fine-tune their car and unleash a race-winner has, unfortunately, failed.
Back in 1988, with F1 giants Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna on the driving strength, the team rocked up at Imola amid murmurings that it had got its sums wrong and that its Honda engine was going to be too thirsty with the new-for-that-year fuel limit and boost limit on turbo power units. Rivals said the late launch of the car would lead to insufficient time to develop it and that they would be in trouble while Ferrari – who had won the two previous races and been the pace-setters to date – were looking strong.
The first lap in anger saw the McLaren MP4-4 cross the line a staggering 1.5 seconds faster than anyone else had managed. And the rest is, as they say, history...