As the F1 circus heads Down Under for the curtain-raising 2011 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne next weekend, a report has disclosed that of the twelve cars that have run thus far, McLaren-Mercedes' troubled MP4-26 has been the one that has covered the fewest pre-season kilometres.
The Woking-based outfit's new baby has been dogged by one problem after another from exhaust gremlins to aerodynamic and hydraulic woes at both Jerez and Barcelona, severely limiting mileage and frustrating Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's efforts to extract the best from it and evaluate its full potential.
Whilst Ferrari's nigh-on bulletproof F150° Italia has completed a jaw-dropping 7,000km ahead of the opening of competitive hostilities around the streets of Albert Park, and defending double F1 World Champions Red Bull Racing have 'never been so well-prepared' going into a new campaign according to team principal Christian Horner, fellow anticipated title contender McLaren remains conversely all-at-sea, with little immediate hope of challenging for the podium, let alone the highest step.
German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
reveals that aside from Hispania Racing's untried new HRT F111 – whose planned day-and-a-half of running was scuppered by a somewhat bizarre Spanish customs issue last week – the late-launched MP4-24 trails the Force India F1 VJM04, Team Lotus T128 and Virgin Racing MVR-02 at the foot end of the mileage stakes, having got through less than half of arch-rival Ferrari's total.
“I'm not going to lie,” confessed 2009 world champion Button. “It's not the best way to go into the season. We are a long way down on [mileage], but there is no point getting negative about it and down at this point of the season.”
Behind Ferrari and Red Bull, Sauber's new C30 is next up in the reliability stakes, followed by Mercedes Grand Prix's improving MGP W02, the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR6 – tipped by many to be 2011's darkest of horses – Lotus Renault GP's innovative R31 and the Williams FW33.