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Whitmarsh: We need to dig deep, but we're in the game!

Martin Whitmarsh has revealed that initially, McLaren-Mercedes 'did not believe' it could bring the dramatic upgrade that it did to its MP4-26 for Melbourne - but now, he asserts, it is very much game on!
McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has confessed that the team 'initially did not believe' that it would be able to complete its dramatic upgrade in time for the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend – but following Lewis Hamilton's superb runner-up finish Down Under, he now forecasts a 'great championship' in prospect.

So unreliable and uncompetitive was the new MP4-26 at its birth that – following a month of testing during which matters did not really greatly improve – McLaren resorted to drastic measures, taking the bold step of introducing an untried and completely redesigned floor and exhaust system at Albert Park. Right from the moment that Jenson Button and team-mate Hamilton paced Friday practice, it was clear that the risk had paid off and that the Woking-based outfit had taken a quantum leap forward.

That much was confirmed by second and fourth places on the grid in qualifying, and Hamilton's race day podium finish – with Whitmarsh adamant that without Button's contentious drive-through penalty for his pass on Ferrari rival Felipe Massa [see separate story – click here], both Brits would have been inside the top three.

Still, following a winter of discontent, it was a thoroughly heartening weekend for the multiple world champions, and even if Red Bull Racing unquestionably holds a substantial advantage for the time being – particularly once it brings KERS to its RB7, reckoned to be worth in the region of three-to-four tenths of a second per lap – Whitmarsh is confident McLaren will be able to close the gap once it begins to refine and extract the maximum performance from the new package that was so hurriedly brought to the MP4-26 in Australia.

“If we make as much progress in the next ten days as in the last ten, it will be easy, won't it!” the Englishman quipped. “Three tenths is not insignificant, but you can make those steps. You've got to keep pushing; if they (Red Bull) don't, we'll attack, but I'm sure they're going to keep pushing – they're a strong team. We leave here knowing we had a car capable of taking two places on the podium – it was genuine pace. Both drivers and the team had a difficult winter, and it is fantastic to come out of it that strong.

“I think Lewis was not quite as quick as Sebastian [Vettel], but until he had the floor damage he was not far from him. I think his tyre usage was slightly lighter than the Red Bulls and Ferraris – and I think by comparison with most of the quick cars – so that's encouraging. I think that will become more critical for instance at Sepang, which is going to be heavier on tyres – if people here were having to three-stop and we were comfortably able to two-stop, maybe that will be an advantage. It depends how it falls.

“In truth, we've been in slightly tunnel-vision for the last ten days, because initially we did not believe we could get this upgrade here, so we focussed on that. We'll re-group now and we'll take a view on what's possible for Malaysia. We have to dig deep – it's a long championship, and we have to improve race-by-race.

“We know that what we did here was a fairly improvised set of modifications, so we can improve on those, certainly by the time we get to Malaysia. Sebastian is doing a fantastic job, and so is Adrian [Newey – Red Bull chief technical officer], so we're going to have to work hard, but that's what we're here for. I think it's a prospect now of a great championship.

“Ferrari did look off the pace and so did Mercedes, but they're two great teams and they've got the knowledge and the capability – we saw how Ferrari had a great recovery last year. This is one race, I think it was a reasonably encouraging start, certainly by comparison to winter testing – and we'll now see what we can do for the rest of the season.”



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
27.03.2011- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26 2nd position
27.03.2011- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Sebastian Vettel (GER), Red Bull Racing, RB7 race winner and Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26 2nd position
26.03.2011- Saturday Practice, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
26.03.2011- Saturday Practice, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26 and Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 1, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 1, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 2, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 1, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 2, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
Ron Dennis, Chairman & CEO, McLaren Group & Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal, McLaren Mercedes
Saturday, Martin Whitmarsh (GBR), Chief Executive Officer Mclaren
Friday, Martin Whitmarsh (GBR), Chief Executive Officer
French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard
Lando Norris, McLaren Autosport BRDC Awards [Credit: Martyn Pass PR]

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MattF1

March 29, 2011 9:48 PM

Don't get too excited McLaren!! Red Bull were a fair distance ahead, and when Ferrari and Merc get their act together and iron out their minor problems, you'll be the fourth quickest team!!



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