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McLaren warn: We've not seen the best of Ferrari or Mercedes yet

McLaren-Mercedes might have turned the tables on pre-season expectations by roundly outperforming Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix in Melbourne, but Jonathan Neale is well aware that its two rivals will fight back
Jonathan Neale insists McLaren-Mercedes is far from ready to write off Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix from this year's title chase, despite its two rivals' distinctly underwhelming performances in the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix just over a week ago.

On the basis of winter testing, the form book heading Down Under seemed to suggest that Ferrari's 150° Italia was ultra-reliable and as near to the leading pace as dammit, that Mercedes had taken a quantum leap forward with its initially off-colour MGP W02 – with Michael Schumacher pacing the final week in Barcelona – and that McLaren was conversely all-at-sea with its troublesome MP4-26, a car bedevilled by problems and struggling in the outright speed stakes to-boot. Come Melbourne, that form book was turned upside-down.

A one-two for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in FP2 on Friday afternoon gave the first real indication that the 'dramatic changes' brought to McLaren's new baby in a desperate bid to boost the British duo's chances had paid off handsomely, and second position for the latter in both qualifying and the race confirmed that impressive progress. Indeed, but for Button's drive-through penalty for cutting the chicane when he passed Felipe Massa, team principal Martin Whitmarsh is convinced both of his drivers would have been up on the podium.

The best-placed Ferrari, by contrast, qualified almost one-and-a-half seconds shy of Sebastian Vettel's extraordinary benchmark and took the chequered flag more than half-a-minute adrift of the runaway Red Bull, whilst Mercedes was nowhere near to the pace, and both Schumacher and Nico Rosberg retired from the grand prix with accident damage within a handful of laps of one another.

Whilst conceding that McLaren's start to the season had exceeded all expectations, the team's managing director Neale is quick to caution that due to its semi-street circuit characteristics, Albert Park is rarely an accurate barometer of the true pecking order in F1, suggesting that the likes of Sepang and Barcelona will 'test the cars more fully' and consequently offer a more representative assessment.

“Although we didn't win the race, we were pleased with the performance of our car,” the Englishman reflected in a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix. “That was a confidence boost for us, but we're not for one minute thinking we've seen the best of Ferrari or Mercedes at this stage. We watched each other carefully throughout winter testing, and I'm absolutely sure both of those teams have more to bring.

“Evidently we didn't have the quickest car [in Australia], but we will be working hard over the next few races to ensure that Lewis and Jenson can get onto the front row in qualifying. I think there's still a reasonable amount of work to do; some areas of the car we are satisfied with, but it's all about how do we exploit the tyres and the downforce?”

Acknowledging that there are 'a whole range of interesting features out there' and that different teams have extracted performance gains from different aspects of the car, Neale quipped that 'everyone is looking at everybody else' and that 'typically, teams want to explore and understand why another team has gone in a particular direction, especially if they are quick!'

Stressing that reliability is the byword in the light of the manifold regulation changes this season, the 48-year-old added that performance-enhancing aerodynamic innovations remain the Holy Grail, and that teams' relative competitiveness should become clearer by the time the F1 circus arrives in Istanbul for next month's Turkish Grand Prix.

by Russell Atkins

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
26.03.2011- Saturday Practice, Michael Schumacher (GER), Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team, MGP W02
25.03.2011- Friday Practice 2, Nico Rosberg (GER), Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team, MGP W02
27.03.2011- Race, Felipe Massa (BRA), Scuderia Ferrari, F-150 Italia leads Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Felipe Massa (BRA), Scuderia Ferrari, F-150 Italia and Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Felipe Massa (BRA), Scuderia Ferrari, F-150 Italia and Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
27.03.2011- Race, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26 and Felipe Massa (BRA), Scuderia Ferrari, F-150 Italia
27.03.2011- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren  Mercedes, MP4-26
26.03.2011- Saturday Practice, Lewis Hamilton (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 2nd position
McLaren Racing managing director Jonathan Neale
McLaren Racing managing director Jonathan Neale
Lando Norris, McLaren, Honda [Credit: McLaren F1]
Nobuharu Matsushita, ART Grand Prix, Sauber, F1 [Credit: Honda Racing]
Lewis Hamilton and The Stig
Sebastien Ogier, Red Bull, RB7, F1 test [Credit: Red Bull Content Pool]
Singapore Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF70H

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Firestorm - Unregistered

April 06, 2011 10:55 AM

It seems that Red Bull isn't too worried about the upgrades which McLaren,Ferrari,Mercedes and Renault will bring in Sepang.Because they will use KERS this weekend and the gap with those teams will remain the same I guess.We will wait until the race in Barcelona to see some changes in the packing order.

new f1fan - Unregistered

April 06, 2011 6:27 PM

Richard,i suspect Andrew has 2 or 3 computors sitting there in front of him at once and he just goes from one to the other,he must just get some sort of fun out of doing it.I do like having a laugh with him though,even though i don't think that we are buddies at this precise moment.

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