For all his promises to give polesitter Sebastian Vettel 'the race of his life' in the Australian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton could not help but admit that the gap to the leading Red Bull in qualifying meant that his McLaren team still had some way to go in improving its MP4-26.
The 2011 McLaren had been disappointing in pre-season testing, leaving Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button languishing at the wrong end of the timesheets and the design and engineering teams scratching their heads in search of a solution, but a rapid reworking of its underside and exhaust transformed it into a contender in time for Melbourne.
Although Hamilton ultimately came up a sizeable eight-tenths short of beating Vettel to pole, he was delighted with the improved performance of the MP4-26 but, marvelling at the revelation that the German had run without the assistance of KERS, acknowledged that McLaren still needed to find time to close the gap on its rival.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to be up here today," he admitted, "The guys back at the factory have done an unbelievable job. It is really a massive step this weekend. The car is feeling fantastic. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we have really got ourselves on the right track and it's a great foundation for us to build upon.
"It was a very brave and tough decision for us to kind of pull back from what we had been developing over the winter and, after the last test, to decide 'okay, we are going to come back in another direction'. I think, since I have been here [at McLaren], we have never ever done that before, but the results from the wind tunnel looked good and the guys worked harder than they have ever pushed before to get the components here. The car feels a huge improvement for us and a great stepping stone for us, a great foundation for us to really push on.
"I was never saying that the car was bad, it already felt better than last year's car, but it was just lacking downforce. What downforce enables you to do is brake later, attack the corners faster, get on the power earlier so, in improving your downforce, you improve your minimum speed, so you can improve your kilometres per hour through each corner by ten kilometres. That's a lot of time, because you carry that all the way down the straights.
"We've improved the rear end of the car, which means that I'm able to attack corners a lot more. I'm massively faster in the higher speed corners, so we've basically just fixed an area of the car which was lacking and it clearly shows, this weekend, that, by fixing that one part, the rest of the car is working quite well around it. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's really due to a fantastic job by the guys back at the factory."
The margin to Vettel, Hamilton admitted, was already a concern but, with both having to run without the benefit of KERS, remained an uncertainty when it came to judging the 'real' gap between the two cars.
"I know we have got some good things in the pipeline from this base where we are but, if he didn't use KERS, that is another half-a-second so that is 1.3 seconds, which is not normal," the Briton conceded, "I used [KERS] for half my lap and ran out towards the end of the lap. I didn't have any more - no, I had probably, like, 40 per cent still left. That is a little bit of time, but nothing which would get me close enough to them. That is a staggering lap time they did., but at least we are in the fight and, from there, we can score good points and continue to work on our reliability. Of course, closing the gap is going to be very tough, but the car feels fantastic and, as a team, we have a good development rate. I think, over the years, you have seen us come from quite far back and be able to develop a little bit faster than some others."