F1 » 14 March 2011
Singing a different tune...
1992 saw Williams-Renault and Nigel Mansell, armed with their new technological wonder 'active ride-height suspension' – which had been constantly evolving since 1987 – blow the opposition into the water during a mammoth seven-day winter test at Estoril. They, too, went on to dominate that year.
In 2009, amid the still smouldering ashes of Honda's withdrawal, the Brawn BGP-001 lit up the timing screens in Barcelona at the last test of the pre-season, taking the pit-lane by storm and seeing Jenson Button claim six wins from the first seven races before ultimately clinching the title at Interlagos.
The common denominator? All were quick out-of-the-box...
McLaren's latest offering, the new MP4-26, is stunningly sleek, its J-shaped sidepods a wonder of aerodynamic design but disappointingly, its positive aspects end there.
To hear Button and Lewis Hamilton talk of their car in its current guise is to hear two men struggling to cope with the knowledge that there is the potential loss of a large number of points to the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull especially.
On current form, McLaren are in serious trouble. The first two days of final testing at Barcelona alone saw Red Bull and Ferrari accumulate over 200 laps each while McLaren covered a mere 131.
Those extra 78 laps the UK and Italian squads acquired are equivalent to more than a race distance of extra data-gathering and analysis – something of which McLaren is in dire need.
In contrast to Whitmarsh's claims, Hamilton was hardly impressed, declaring:
“Do I believe I have a car to win the world championship at the moment? I don't, no. We should definitely have been able to have continued from '08 and won another championship in the last two years, but we haven't.
“Looking at how the car has developed over the winter and seeing how it has come out, I was really, really excited getting into it thinking we really had hit the nail on the head – but we've missed that nail a little bit, although it's not like we don't have any other opportunities to get it right.”
Button's thoughts weren't much different:
“I would be surprised if we can really match the Red Bull and the Ferrari when we get to Melbourne. I think that is a big ask considering the mileage that we have compared to them, and the pace in the last tests compared to them. I think that is going to be tricky – but never say never. I am quite impressed with the step that we have made with the car.”
For their legion of fans, and for Whitmarsh, hope springs eternal that an emulation of the 2009 campaign – when a poor car at the start of the year was turned into a race-winner by the summer – will see McLaren provide both former champions with a chance to battle with the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari for top honours.
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